Looking to counter a press conference earlier Friday by Democratic women in the Senate lambasting the GOP over their refusal to drop provisions blocking women’s health funding, Republican women in the House held a gathering of their own on Friday afternoon. But the presser proved a frustrating affair for the members, who were asked over and over again without success to explain if they agreed with the policy riders or not.
In their opening remarks, the 15 congresswomen present each sought to frame the battle over a continuing resolution as one about spending, with several saying future prosperity spurred by lower debt would benefit their daughters and granddaughters — seemingly a direct rejoinder to Democratic accusations that the GOP was targeting women and children. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) said that the Democrats’ spending was “economic child abuse.”
But despite charging Democrats with falsely claiming negotiations were hinging on social issues, the members appeared uncomfortable even bringing up the policy riders in question by name. Not one member recited the words “Planned Parenthood” in opening remarks and only one member, Rep. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, even mentioned the word “abortion.” Several addressed Democratic charges that policy provisions regarding women’s health and abortion were holding up a final deal only in the most indirect terms.
“It is not about some other issue that the other side keeps talking about,” Judy Biggert (R-IL) said of the negotiations.
Asked by a reporter whether they personally supported Title X spending at stake in negotiations, which funds family planning, the group fell silent for a moment and then spoke over each other until a visibly upset Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH) took the microphone.
“This is about a package,” Schmidt said. “We can’t tell you what we’re going to do until we see the next package. What the Senate is doing is deflecting the real issue and the real issue is to cut the unnecessary spending in Washington, period. And you can continue to ask the question but the answer is cutting unnecessary spending in Washington.”
Schmidt continued: “To put something out there and say that the only reason why we can’t come to a deal is absolutely wrong. Harry Reid knows it — that’s why we’re here. Pass something, Harry. Let’s see what you got so we can respond.”
Members repeatedly changed the topic when pressed to directly respond to Democratic claims that the policy riders were a roadblock in negotiations. Asked by a reporter to address Reid’s claim that Republicans were holding up a bill in order to keep women from getting cancer screenings, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) retorted “I would submit I’d like to see the Senate pass a bill.”
“Harry Reid is not going to be able to fool the American people any longer,” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) jumped in to add.
Pressed on the issue, members said they could not answer questions about whether they would support a proposal that did away with policy riders on women’s health until they saw a final deal.
“We’re going to wait and see what comes back,” Blackburn said.
“We all know what happened in the most recent vote on this health care reform, I mean it was said that we have to pass it before we know what’s in it,” Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) said. “It’s irresponsible for us to stand here and say what we will or will not do.”
Few Republicans have stepped up to defend provisions on women’s health amidst a continuous array of attacks from Democrats. Speaker John Boehner has insisted that they are not the only issue holding up a deal, but has not said that he will abandon them to further negotiations.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.