Washington View, March 2023

Written by Brian Dixon, Senior Vice President for Governmental and Political Affairs | Published: March 13, 2023

Chaos Rules Opening of New Congress

The 118th Congress came together to begin on January 3. Thirty-four men and women who were elected to the Senate were sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris and began their work. The House, though, well that was a different scene.

Newly elected members of the House are sworn in to office by the Speaker of the House. And by the end of the day on January 3, there was no Speaker. That was true for January 4 as well. And January 5 and 6. It wasn’t until the wee hours of January 7 that Kevin McCarthy of California was elected Speaker on the 15th ballot. And it wasn’t until later that day that 434 members of the House were finally sworn in (there is one vacancy in the 4th district of Virginia created by the death of Rep. Donald McEachin just weeks after he was reelected).

Much has been made of the promises McCarthy had to make to win over some of the most extreme members of his party. Plum committee assignments were doled out. As were promises to push legislation doomed to fail, and a pledge to default on national debts.

Among the legislation McCarthy promised to move early was a series of bills to further restrict access to abortion. One Republican, Nancy Mace of South Carolina, said during a TV appearance that if her party was serious about reducing abortion, it shouldn’t waste its time passing bills that will never become law, but should instead focus on real solutions like ensuring that everyone has access to contraceptives. Whether she’ll be prepared to match her votes to her words remains to be seen.

The new Republican majority has little but chaos to show for its first month in control. The debt limit crisis is ongoing. Several of the bills McCarthy promised to his extremists seem unable to muster enough votes to pass, so they remain in limbo. And the weakened Speaker agreed to allow just one member of his own party to call for his removal and spur yet another floor vote.

McCarthy also faces pressure to deal with Rep. George Santos, a serial fabulist who faces very real legal jeopardy. That didn’t stop his receiving committee appointments while McCarthy was blocking two Democrats from joining the Intelligence Committee.

Biden Administration Proposes New Rule to Expand Access to Contraceptives

On January 30, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a new rule to expand health insurance coverage of contraceptives. The new rule will reverse a policy imposed under the previous administration that allowed employers and universities to avoid the Affordable Care Act mandate to cover birth control without cost sharing simply by expressing a “moral” objection.

The ACA recognized that birth control is essential health care for Americans and included a crucial provision guaranteeing coverage. Nearly 90 percent of women of reproductive age have used birth control at some point in their lives, and support for access to the full range of contraceptive methods is near universal.

Access to contraceptives is essential to women’s health, autonomy, and economic security. This new Biden administration rule will help ensure that Americans’ health care isn’t subject to the “morals” of their bosses.

Before taking effect, the rule is subject to a 60-day period during which the public may submit comments.

EACH Act Introduced in House

On January 26, just days after the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing the right to legal abortion across the United States, the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH) Act was introduced by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA-12), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA-7), Diana DeGette (D-CO-1), and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-9).

Roe is no longer the law of the land after the Supreme Court overturned it last summer, and Americans face wildly different scenarios when it comes to the legality and availability of abortion, making this legislation critically important.

The EACH Act repeals the Hyde Amendment and guarantees coverage for abortion in all federal health insurance programs including Medicaid, Medicare, and plans available to federal employees, military service members, veterans, and many others. It also lifts restrictions on abortion coverage imposed on private insurers participating in the federal exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act.

There are 34 states, plus the District of Columbia (thanks to unwelcome congressional interference), that do not cover abortion in their state Medicaid plans. And politicians in 26 states have limited abortion coverage within their state health insurance exchanges.

Making abortion care more accessible and affordable is a crucial public health measure. In states where abortion is most restricted, maternal mortality rates are highest. Passing EACH would create a critical federal standard.

Regretfully, the current House majority is unlikely to move the bill forward.

For over 40 years, Hyde has forced poor women who are denied insurance coverage for abortions to carry pregnancies to term or pay for care when they’re already struggling to make ends meet. With extreme abortion laws in place in half the country, it is more critical than ever that we fight to make abortion accessible wherever possible. It is past time for our policies to ensure everyone can get the health care they need without shame, punishment, or financial ruin. It is time to take a step forward, not back. It is time to repeal Hyde once and for all.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA-12)