Well, that didn't take long.
Just 18 days into the new Congressional session, Republicans held a major press conference to introduce the so-called "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act." Never mind that there is already no public funding for abortion in this country -- an act of manifest discrimination against poor women in America -- the House leadership has just declared its clear intent to further diminish access to legal abortion care in this country.
But, wait a minute! Didn't the new House Republican majority run a campaign based on the economy, jobs, and the deficit? Haven't we heard their promises to "listen to the American people" and "get down to the business at hand"? I guess the "business at hand" for the new House leadership is a return to the culture wars -- an ideological mandate near and dear to the far-right base of the Republican party but completely irrelevant to the majority of the electorate and, incidentally, equally abhorrent to a number of key Tea Party activists who returned Republicans to power. (In fact, these Tea Party leaders have publicly urged the GOP to avoid going down social issue "rabbit holes.")
Yet, less than two weeks after the November elections, Speaker Boehner met with Randall Terry, an activist on the anti-abortion fringe who has spoken often about the need for a "culture war" in America and the "beauty of intolerance" when it comes to social values issues.
During the first week of the 112th Congress, legislation was introduced to ban abortion, de-fund Planned Parenthood, and support so-called "crisis pregnancy" centers where anti-abortion activists attempt to dissuade women from having abortions, often by providing inaccurate and misleading information.
Fasten your policy safety belts, because judging from a key committee appointment, the anti-abortion bill is but the opening shot in a campaign to undermine sexual and reproductive health and rights in America. At the insistence of far-right anti-abortion groups, Congressman Joe Pitts (R-PA) was named to the critical Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health. This is the committee with jurisdiction over the trifecta of issues near and dear to the hearts of the ultra social conservatives: abortion, contraception, and sex education.
So, while unemployment still hovers around 9%, this Congress will spend countless hours trying to ban abortion, undermine access to contraception, and return the country to the Bush-era abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education programs that censor information about condoms and birth control. Hardly what the voters ordered, but still front and center on the House Congressional menu. As a result, the House leadership is so desperate to prove that their culture war agenda is really all about jobs.
While members pontificate about the need to eliminate appropriations "earmarks," watch them fight to reinstate the CBAE programs (community-based abstinence-only-until-marriage education programs), which, at a cost of more than $1 billion, constitute one of the biggest ideological earmarks in recent Congressional history. With breathtaking hypocrisy, watch the deficit hawks go after every conceivable human services program that benefits low and moderate-income Americans while throwing appropriations dollars at abstinence-only programs already proven to have "no impact on teen behavior."
And brace yourself for an assault on the cost-effective Title X family-planning program which saves $3.80 for every dollar invested, because so many of those who oppose abortion are equally opposed to the two most effective strategies for reducing the need for abortion in this country -- family planning and sex education. The named target will be to de-fund Planned Parenthood, but the real impact will be felt by poor and middle-class women throughout the United States.
Also, be on the lookout for those who decry big government "social engineering", but want to use the heavy hand of government to promote things like covenant marriage which would restrict the rights of women to end unhealthy marriages. After all, government is only bad when it's promoting the other guy's agenda.
Watch how some of these members find cause to oppose anti-bullying initiatives in Congress. Never mind that 2010 was a year marked by at least nine incidents of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) teen suicide due to harassment and bullying. Hope for a new, effective anti-bullying measure is fading fast. Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) -- who infamously called the murder of Matthew Shepard a "hoax" and voted against hate crimes protections for GLBT Americans -- will chair the Higher Education Subcommittee of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. Meanwhile, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), House Speaker Eric Boehner (R-OH), and dozens of their Republican colleagues signed an open letter in the Washington Examiner defending the Family Research Council after it had been designated an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Expect lockstep opposition to any measures that would protect the health and well-being of LGBT people in this country.
Finally, don't think for a minute that the culture war will stop at our nation's borders.
Expect a frontal assault on U.N. agencies particularly UNFPA, the critically important body promoting international family planning. U.S. foreign assistance will also come under attack and we'll see renewed attempts to export failed abstinence-only-until-marriage programs under PEPFAR, the U.S. initiative to address the global HIV/AIDS epidemic.
It will fall to advocates across the progressive spectrum to highlight this upcoming campaign and the dangers it poses, particularly for women and young people. For this is indeed shaping up to be the Trojan Horse Congress -- politicians elected on economic issues but bound and determined to promote an extreme social agenda at all costs.
The vast majority of Americans are understandably focused on the economy, health care, education, and housing. The House Leadership has yet to introduce a jobs agenda, focusing instead on a return to divisive culture war issues. It's our job to let the American people know what's really going on in the "new" Washington.
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