Editor’s Note: This post was written by Patrick Grein.
H.R. 7, or the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act of 2015, is a notable failure of the 115th Congress. The goal of the bill was to prohibit federal dollars from funding abortions or health care plans that cover abortions by eliminating tax credits. Under this bill, abortions could still get federal funding if they are due to cases of rape, incest, or a danger to the mother’s health. H.R. 7 passed the House quite easily, being reported out of committee in one day, but had yet to be brought up for vote in the Senate as of the end of the 114th Congress. Similar versions of the bill have met this fate in previous Congresses, but it is strange it has happened again due to a Republican-controlled Senate. The three central reasons why this bill was due to fail again were the controversy of the subject, the threat of a filibuster in the Senate, and the promise of a veto by President Obama.
The controversial nature of the bill is more of a secondary cause of failure because it does not directly affect the legislation. Both the public and Congress are deeply partisan on this issue. The bill is technically bipartisan, but only one Democrat co-sponsors it and many Democrats voted against it in the House. While most Republicans are strongly pro-life and most Democrats pro-choice, it is the groups outside of the Capitol that are creating the most outcry. One example is the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), which is the biggest pro-life interest group in Washington. They formed around 50 years ago, when abortions became more prevalent in the U.S. They operate on Catholic values and the belief that life begins at conception. On the other side is NARAL and Planned Parenthood, who are as pro-choice as the NRLC is pro-life. They represent the belief that a fetus is a part of the woman, so it is her choice whether or not to receive an abortion. If the Senate were to hold a hearing on the matter, there would be many women with troubled personal stories and why they think abortion should be a choice. These groups are both large and crucial in representing the public’s opinion, but the forces inside the Capitol are more potent.
The first of the two primary causes of the bill’s failure is the filibuster. The Senate has less formal rules than the House in floor proceedings. These Senate rules allow for unlimited debate and prolonged speeches, known as a filibuster. The main purpose of the filibuster is to delay the vote on a bill that the majority supports. The majority, Republicans in this case, would need 60 out of 100 votes to end the debate, but they do not have those votes as there are only 54 Republicans in the Senate. Republicans could wait out the filibuster, because a senator cannot speak forever, but that would take up a lot of time. With a hefty schedule and several different ways senators can alter legislation, it is a huge opportunity cost for Republicans to wait out a filibuster. Therefore, just the threat of one would be enough to keep the bill off of the Senate voting floor.
The second primary cause is the veto power President Obama holds. On the day of the House passage, the President stated that the bill intrudes on women’s rights and he would veto the bill. The veto is a very powerful tool in legislation and the Senate probably finds it costly to try to pass the bill when it will certainly get shut down by the President. Moreover, if Republicans cannot get the votes to enact cloture on a filibuster, they will not be able to overturn the President’s veto, in either the House or Senate. Therefore, Senate majority party leaders see no point in wasting time on the bill when it has virtually no chance of becoming law. Yet, there is a chance that this thought process might change.
The bill does have a slightly better chance of passing in the next session. After the November elections, Republicans kept control of Congress and the election of Donald Trump, who is pro-life, will eliminate the veto threat. However, the Republicans did lose seats in the Senate, so it will be harder to invoke cloture. The bill has a better chance of passing next session, yet it will never pass unless the country becomes more ideologically conservative.