WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday passed a temporary extension of government funding ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline, but with an inclusion that could trigger a fight over abortion funding in the coming months.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, allowed the inclusion of an amendment reinstating funding for the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) in a State and Foreign Operations appropriations bill that then was approved by the full committee on Sept. 26.
The amendment by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., would bring back $32.5 million in funding of the UNFPA which the Trump administration has withheld since 2017; the funding has been withheld because of UNFPA’s partnership with the Chinese government, which carries out a mandatory two-child family-planning policy through coercive abortions and sterilizations.
The administration has instead redirected the UNFPA’s funding to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for family-planning programs that are compliant with the Mexico City Policy.
The re-inclusion of UNFPA funding could be subject to the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, which prohibits funding of “any organization or program which, as determined by the president of the United States, supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.”
The bill, as approved on Thursday, also includes increased family-planning funding, which is in apparent violation of the July budget agreement between President Donald Trump and congressional leaders.
The July agreement instructed that no “poison pill” amendments would be inserted into spending bills over the following two years without the approval of all the parties involved in the agreement and that funding levels for controversial programs would not change.
This increase in family-planning aid could go to fund groups that provide or promote abortions abroad if the Mexico City Policy is repealed in the future. The Mexico City Policy currently protects against U.S. family planning and global health aid going to groups promoting or providing abortions.
The addition of amendments to appropriations bills has stalled necessary votes on federal funding for several government agencies and departments, necessitating further continuing resolutions, with a new deadline set for Nov. 21.
The continuing resolution that passed the Senate by a vote of 82 to 15 on Thursday had already passed the House and heads to the president’s desk for signature ahead of the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.
“Today does show that we have to be ever-vigilant,” Tom McClusky, president of March for Life Action, told CNA.
McClusky had told CNA earlier in the month that a continuing resolution would be the best pro-life option in regards to government funding, as it would continue the “status quo” without the threat of new pro-abortion amendments.
However, he said on Thursday that passage of the continuing resolution simply delays the fight over abortion funding until the next November deadline — one which may not be resolved by then.
“I don’t see how they solve it before their next deadline,” McClusky told CNA.
Although the Senate was considering a dozen appropriations bills to fund various government agencies for the 2020 financial year, several bills have stalled because of partisan debates over border-wall funding and abortion.
Earlier in the month, two attempts were made to insert pro-abortion “poison pill” amendments into appropriations bills that would have repealed two Trump administration pro-life policies: the Title X “Protect Life Rule” and the “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance” policy, the administration’s expanded Mexico City Policy. Those policies, respectively, set up protections against taxpayer funding of domestic and international abortion providers or promoters.
“What Sen. Shelby did today does attack the Global Health Rule,” McClusky said, in that it “sets a ground floor” for future fights over funding of foreign groups that promote or perform abortions.
McClusky also warned that the coming months would see the possible adoption of a “CRomnibus,” or the combination of another short-term funding resolution for some government agencies — a “CR” — with a comprehensive funding bill of other government agencies for FY 2020 — an “omnibus” bill.
That could be problematic, he said, because a large, comprehensive funding bill could invite more pro-abortion amendments.
Also on Thursday, the Senate voted to confirm Eugene Scalia, son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, as the next secretary of labor.
Scalia, one of nine children, is a labor, employment and regulatory lawyer and has served as a high-ranking official at the Labor Department.
He was formerly a speechwriter for then-Secretary of Education William Bennett and then served as a special assistant to former-and-current Attorney General William Barr in 1992-93. In 2001, Scalia joined the Department of Labor as solicitor of labor.
At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on Sept. 19, Scalia cited his previous work within the agency, including helping to resolve a labor dispute at ports on the West Coast and cases involving “low-wage and immigrant workers.”
“The most affecting part of the job, for me, was encountering individual workers in sometimes tragic circumstances and recognizing the capacity we had to respond,” Scalia said.
“The construction workers killed in trenching accidents. The 12 miners in Alabama who gave their lives trying to save a co-worker’s. Migrant workers whose sacrifice for their families was preyed upon by others.”
Scalia faced tough questions from Sen. Patti Murray, D-Wash., ranking member on the committee, along with other Democrats, on his record of defending corporations and on his beliefs on the rights of workers identifying as “LGBTQ.” Scalia confirmed that a company firing an employee because of his or her sexual orientation or so-called gender identity was “wrong.”
When asked if he thought Title VII of the Civil Rights Act applied workplace protections to sexual orientation and gender identity, Scalia said, “We’ll see what the court decides.” The Supreme Court this fall will hear oral arguments in a bundle of cases involving Title VII protections.