Bait and Switch Politics: Welcome to the 112th Congress


This article was originally published at Amplifyyourvoice.org, a project of Advocates for Youth.

Welcome to the morning after.

With too much caffeine and too little sleep, it seems that everyone is struggling to make sense of last night’s election results.  Depending on who’s doing the talking, Republican’s picked up 60 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives because President Obama and the Democratic Congress spent the last two years adopting extreme liberal policies that overreached their mandate for “change.” Or they simply weren’t liberal enough (at all?) and spent too much time compromising their own principles on a quixotic quest for bipartisanship.  Last night was a resounding victory for Tea Party Republicans – who picked up 39 seats in Congress – yet it also proved that the American people resoundingly reject Tea Party ideology, leaving three extra Senate seats in Democratic hands.  The media, politicians, pundits and seemingly all of The Internets are busily writing history this morning, and we’ll just have to wait and see which interpretation wins out.

According to CNN exit polls:

Sixty-two percent of voters named the economy as their most important issue this year. Health care ranked a distant second, at 19 percent, with illegal immigration and Afghanistan trailing at 8 and 7 percent.

 This seems right on track with what we’ve seen from other news outlets.  To the vast majority of voters, this election was about the economy and – to a lesser degree – about health care reform.  It may have been about President Obama and possibly still about President Bush.  Practically the only argument that no one is making this morning is that last night’s election was a national referendum on social issues*.

Let me, then, step into that lonely void.

Yesterday’s election marks a dramatic return to the culture wars.

The 112th Congress will be dominated by fights over social issues, from abortion to family planning to abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Two years from now, we will look back on November 2, 2010, as the day that far-right Republicans used a wave of economic frustration to usher in the most anti-choice, anti-sex ed, anti-LGBT, anti-family planning, anti-contraception Congress in our nation’s history.

And this “bait and switch” will take most of the country entirely by surprise.

SEX EDUCATION

There is no doubt that we have made tremendous progress over the last few years when it comes to federal policy guiding sex education funding.  We’ve seen the elimination of two-thirds of the federal funding for failed abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that censor critical, life-saving information about condoms and birth control.  We’ve also witnessed the created of a new $180 million evidence-based federal program for teen pregnancy prevention and sex education. 

Both of these achievements will likely be at risk under Speaker Boehner’s new Republican majority.  Funding for comprehensive sex education is too obvious – and too symbolic – of a political target to avoid a fight.  And a return to abstinence-only-until-marriage ideology would be a win for a conservative base that expects immediate, tangible results.   

Too briefly, sanity has prevailed in Washington, with politicians finally denying funding to virginity pledge programs, purity balls, and abstinence clowns.  Science-driven sex education policy isn’t going down without a fight, but it’s going to be high on the list of visible reversals to symbolically “overturn the Obama agenda.”

ABORTION

The Republican Party platform has long included a provision calling for a Constitutional Amendment to outlaw abortion and apply full “personhood” protections that would begin at conception. 

At least 78 Republican House and Senate candidates would – if given the opportunity – vote to make abortion illegal under ALL circumstances, including in cases of rape and incest.  [Once we have the chance to fully tally how many of these candidates won last night, we’ll be sure to post an update.]  And at least one – Senator elect (and Tea Party candidate) Pat Toomey – would jail doctors for performing abortion procedures.

Most attempts to further restrict access to abortion will continue at the state level, although some new members of Congress are shockingly vocal about their support for extreme measures to eliminate a woman’s decision about when and if to become a mother.  But, the anti-abortion movement is eager to capitalize on their success in Congress with the Stupak and Nelson amendments in health care reform.  Their strategy will almost certainly avoid federal legislation to overtly restrict abortion access.  Rather, they will continue to create strategic media firestorms designed to force Democrats to go beyond the letter of the law in restricting abortion coverage and access.

This strategy has already proved to be a winning one with the Obama administration: Despite health care reform overtly banning the use of federal funds to pay for abortion care or insurance coverage for abortion procedure, under vocal pressure from anti-abortion advocates, President Obama issued an executive order unnecessarily reaffirming this position.  The tactic succeeded again when the National Right to Life Committee claimed that abortions would be paid for with federal funds when the High Risk Insurance Pools first went into effect.  The Department of Health and Human services responded by banning all abortion coverage in the High Risk Pools, except in cases of rape, incest, or if the life of the mother is at risk.  Upon examination, the ACLU characterized the move as a “voluntary” restriction on women’s access to abortion.

Will the Obama Administration and Congressional Democrats continue to impose further voluntary restrictions on abortion access in the United States? The National Right to Life Committee and their allies certainly know that they have a winning strategy on their hands. 

Time will tell, but it certainly seems that Democrats can simply be bullied into giving away women’s rights.

FAMILY PLANNING

Domestically, expect to see the anti-abortion forced-capitulation strategy above repeated with a new target: birth control.

The Family Research Council has already announced this as a new priority:

Is Fertility a “Pre-existing Condition?”  

Planned Parenthood certainly thinks so. That’s why the country’s biggest abortion provider is pushing to include free birth control as part of the new health care law. Making a change in the law would not only add billions more to the tab, but it would force Americans to pay for something they shouldn’t. Birth control is not only optional, it’s objectionable to some people. Despite what Planned Parenthood may believe, fertility (like pregnancy) isn’t a disease. It shouldn’t be placed in the same category as other basic types of medical care. FRC Action has actively lobbied against the possibility of making abortion a preventive service for women and will continue to do everything possible to ensure that this does not happen.

Currently, Title X family planning funding recipients are able to use funds to provide free or discounted birth control, and the 340B Drug Pricing Program makes birth control options affordable at campus health centers and at health clinics around the country. 

The same political framework that has been used to ban federal funding for and restrict access to legal abortion care – “Some people find this morally objectionable, therefore we can’t let any federal tax dollars pay for this!” – will invariably be used to attack access to and subsidies for birth control in the coming months and years.

Turning our attention to U.S. foreign policy and foreign aid, we can also expect Representative Chris Smith (NJ) and his compatriots to lead an full-on attack against international family planning and abortion access – even though complications from pregnancy, including childbirth and unsafe abortion, is the leading cause of death for young women ages 15-17 in low and middle income countries.

ANTI-BULLYING LEGISLATION

In light of a tragic series of teen suicides related to anti-LGBT bullying and our culture’s pervasive homophobia, we should be able to expect the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act to be top Congressional priorities and to pass with broad (if not unanimous) bipartisan support. 

We have witnessed an incredible groundswell of outrage and compassion over the past weeks and months, as millions of people from across the country have come together to speak out on behalf of LGBT young people and to take a stand against bullying in all forms. 

However, the intemperate rhetoric of some religious conservatives attempting to denigrate these efforts as attempts to “promote the homosexual agenda” we can expect to see the new majority delay – or simply block – these critical pieces of legislation.

Some context:

Montana Big Sky Tea Party leader Tim Ravndal joked about murdering gays on Facebook, even asking for a copy of  “that printed Wyoming instruction manual” – since Wyoming’s proud history includes the slaughter of Matthew Shepard.  Ravndal was eventually fired for his remarks, but he is now the head of a new group – Lewis and Clark’s Conservative Tea Party.


Arkansas school board member Clint McCance posted: “Seriously they want me to wear purple because five queers killed themselves. The only way im wearin it for them is if they all commit suicide.” After a media firestorm, McCance resigned and apologized for his remarks. 

 

The American Family Association’s Bryan Fisher recently remarked that “If we want to see fewer students commit suicide, we want fewer homosexual students.”

These kind of comments have become commonplace within the dialogue of the Tea Party and the “family values” conservative alliance. To our knowledge, no members of Congress have vocally opposed protections for LGBT students – but you can bet that there would be hell to pay (to some minds, literally) for acknowledging that LGBT young people have a right to exist, much less that they might somehow deserve to live without fear of harassment or physical violence.

Just a reminder that nearly 9 in 10 LGBT youth experience harassment in schools.  More than 1 in 4 were physically harassed or assaulted in the past year, and nearly two-thirds reported feeling unsafe in school environments.  According to research conducted by the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN), “students attending schools with an anti-bullying policy that included protections based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression heard fewer homophobic remarks, experienced lower levels of victimization related to their sexual orientation, were more likely to report that staff intervened when hearing homophobic remarks and were more likely to report incidents of harassment and assault to school staff than students at schools with a general policy or no policy.”

Congress has a responsibility to pass the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act without delay.  Whether they will do so – or if student safety will be held hostage by far-right ideology – remains to be seen.

It is dismayingly likely that the 112th Congress will see ideology again (and again and again) trump science and human rights.  The new Republican majority was able to capitalize on an electoral wave of voter unease with the status quo.  Their promises of job creation and economic recovery will certainly continue throughout the next two years – as spending freezes, budget cuts to social programs, tax cuts, and deregulation will dominate the discourse.

There is also clear evidence that the ideological caucus within the Republican Party – not limited to Tea Party members, but certainly bolstered by their newfound presence – will be busy from the outset promoting an anti-abortion, anti-sex ed anti-family planning, anti-LGBT agenda.

The pundits and experts may eventually write off this election as just another historic check on one-party rule during a rough economy.  But voters are in for a frightening surprise: the 112th Congress comes with a silent bait-and-switch social agenda.

Let’s look back at that CNN exit polling:

Sixty-two percent of voters named the economy as their most important issue this year. Health care ranked a distant second, at 19 percent, with illegal immigration and Afghanistan trailing at 8 and 7 percent.

Ninety-six percent of voters named something other than social issues as their top priority.  I’m sadly certain that many among the new Republican majority would disagree.

I want to give the last word to Adam Brandon, communications director for FreedomWorks, the conservative group that has funded and organized much of the Tea Party’s activities during this election cycle.

“The Tea Party is done with street protests,” he says. “We’re done, that’s it. Now we’ve got Congress.” Now comes the policymaking.

For those who say the Tea Party has no legislative ideas, Brandon has three words: “Here it comes.”

*There were state and local fights over cultural and social issues, to be sure.  Amendment 62 in Colorado – which would grant “personhood” and legal rights “to every human being from the beginning of biological development,” i.e. from conception – failed by a 3 to 1 margin. California managed to defend it’s landmark global warming law at the same time that state’s voters rejected legalizing marijuana.  And three of Iowa’s Supreme Court Justices, all of whom ruled on behalf of marriage equality for same-sex couples, were voted out of office as a result of a massive out-of-state campaign by the National Organization for Marriage.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

  • forced-birth-rape

    Sex Education: They wont have the baby machines knowing how not to be baby machines. They are against Sex Education because they do not want girls to know how not to get pregnant, because they are so perverted and evil they want under age girls getting pregnant and giving birth, this is a fabulous way to subjugate girls, and all females are to be subjugated.

    Abstinence until marriage: ~ All Christian boys deserve their much desired sex with a virgin, and they are much, much to insecure to have sex with a girl who all ready knows anything about sex. He wants to have sex with someone who has the knowledge about sex as a seven-year-old-little-girl. I believe Sex Education would be very empowering for sexually abused teens in America; it could give them the confidence and courage to get help and protect themselves. ~

    Abortion: ~ Is none of their business! They do not want women and little girls to be able to get out of being baby machines. Republicans want full custody of any female that can get pregnant, even nine-year-olds, and happy, happy if the nine-year-old gets raped and pregnant the republicans are (all too happy to capitalize on it). ~

    “Despite what Planned Parenthood may believe, fertility (like pregnancy) isn’t a disease. It shouldn’t be placed in the same category as other basic types of medical care.”

    ~ That is the family Research Councils self-serving odious opinion and I find it extremely offensive as someone who has known many women who had violent births, and one who died. ~

    ~ The republicans, christians, and catholics attack Planned Parenthood because they do not want the baby machines being able to not be baby machines. They should be embarrassed to attack something that helps women and little girls, women and little girls should not be forced to be baby machines to satisfy the vile christians, catholics, and republicans. I hate that republicans and christians want me to be a baby-machine just as much as I hate someone wanting me to be a sex-machine. It is equaly gross demeaning and hateful to females. ~

    ANTI-BULLYING LEGISLATION: ~They are not pro little boys life, if the little boy does not act like loud-mouth, pro-rape, know-it-all, rube-pigs like their hateful republican sons. ~

    Homophobia: ~ Is very bad for men and little boys who have been molested and or raped. Because of the homophobia men and little boys who get raped do not get the justice or emotional help they deserve. Rape is very humiliating for women, very. But because of homophobia it is much worse for little boys and men, that is very sad. I know a lot of heterosexual men who were raped as little boys, and all of the hateful homophobia is not helping them any, it makes it much worse. ~

    “Turning our attention to U.S. foreign policy and foreign aid, we can also expect Representative Chris Smith (NJ) and his compatriots to lead an full-on attack against international family planning and abortion access – even though complications from pregnancy, including childbirth and unsafe abortion, is the leading cause of death for young women ages 15-17 in low and middle income countries.”

    ~ Well there is nothing sexier to christians, catholics, and republicans then third world women and little girls having extreme unwanted vaginal pain, and dying from pregnancy, it really turns them on. The nerve of women and little girls to not want to be baby machines, republicans say if you are not willing to be the baby machine my loving god ordered you to be, you deserve to die. These odious men are just on a sadomasochistic power trip, they are no better then the muslim men they go on FOX news and criticize, republican christian men cost women and little girls their lives, and cause them extreme unwanted vaginal agony. It must make them very happy making sure third world women and little girls stay third world women and little girls and have children of their own to watch and suffer with.~

    “Amendment 62 in Colorado – which would grant “personhood” and legal rights “to every human being from the beginning of biological development,” i.e. from conception.”

    ~ What they are saying is I, christian republican has decided it is all women and little girls job to have something or someone in her body against her will, using her body against her will, terrorizing her with unwanted worry and dread of future vaginal pain against her will, and in nine months causing her extreme unwanted vaginal pain against her will. “NO” ones right to life, or anything else gives them the right to do this to women and little girls against her will. These sadomasochistic rapist have no right dectating womens and little girls lives, bodies, and genitals. ~

    These people are the American taliban!!!

    They have basically issued a fatwa on all American females, and a lot of us are just to distracted to know.

    Thank you Will Neville.

  • canoeswamp

    This comment has been removed.

     

    RH Reality Check is an unapologetically pro-choice publication, and the majority of our readers supports the struggle for sexual and reproductive rights, health, and justice.  We realize that some of our readers and commenters do not support these goals.  We embrace and encourage vigorous debate and civil discourse on the site and welcome comments representing diverse points of view that are evidence-based and reasonably engage the debate.  We reserve the right to delete, without further explanation, comments that misrepresent evidence or promote misinformation, that threaten or demean others, undermine the civility of discussion or seek to divert conversation from the topic of the original article.  We reserve the right to ban users who repeatedly abuse commenting privileges.

     

    RH Reality Check staff

  • arekushieru

    Wow, so you think rights being at the mercy of someone’s whim year after year and the fight against that is ‘whining’?  Hmm, wouldn’t that make a black person happy to hear…?  That you would have wanted to keep them enslaved, because you would have thought for them to fight to gain, regain or keep rights is ‘whining’.  But, I bet you would never say it to their FAces.

  • ahunt

    Arekushieru,

     

    I dunno. The spineless, sniveling little “drive by” could be fun for demolition derby. Let “it” stick around,. At least “it” knows the value of brevity. And even possibly the implications of being referred to as “it.”

     

    Given that in spineless, sniveling little “drive by’s” world….unwillingly pregnant women are reduced to the status of “it” … “drive by” could learn to relate…

  • arekushieru

    Well, I think it takes a lot more than one report to get an individual removed from RHReality Check (grrr, NOT FB, as I originally stated.  Stabbity-stab!).  However, this one was just going a *little* too far.  I had to make some kind of statement.  ^_^;

    Agreed, though.  Hopefully, ‘it’ can soon relate….

  • ahunt

    No more sweat, Arekushieru.

     

    You’ve been doing the heavy lifting for awhile now…appreciation on my part.

     

    As it happens…winter is here on the farm…I now have time, and your back.

     

    I get the aggravation, but damn…”It” is fresh meat…who completes a thought in two sentences or less. “Refreshing.”