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Land: GOP ‘pledge’ shows social conservative progress

WASHINGTON (BP)–Republicans in the House of Representatives unveiled “A Pledge to America” Sept. 23 that was long on addressing unemployment, taxes, health care and government spending but also pledged to fight taxpayer funding of abortion and to stand up for “traditional marriage.”

The document, what the GOP described as a “new governing agenda,” said Republicans would institute a ban on all federal funding of abortion and enact conscience protections for pro-life, health-care providers if they gained control of the House in the November election. It did not promise, however, to pass a measure to protect marriage as a union between only a man and a woman or to turn back efforts to expand laws protecting homosexuality.

Though much longer, this year’s “A Pledge to America” is reminiscent of the GOP’s 1994 “Contract With America,” which did not address abortion or homosexuality. House Republicans gained 52 seats in that mid-term election, achieving majority status. This year they are seeking to overcome a 255-178 deficit.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called the document “a strong statement that can serve as a preamble to what a majority of Americans believe about the role the government should and should not play in the economic lives of families, communities and the nation.”

“Some have criticized the document for not being more specific about many of the issues that deeply concern social conservatives,” Land said. “However, when you compare this pledge with the 1994 Contract with America, which was deafeningly silent on moral issues, one can see that social conservatives are clearly a more important part of any potential conservative governing coalition than they were in 1994. There could have been stronger language concerning the defense of traditional marriage, but the language affirming no government funding for abortion is welcomed.”

Land said the blueprint “should not be read as an abandonment of the social conservatives’ moral agenda.”

“A Pledge to America is a document of its time and place,” he said. “A significant majority of Americans, social conservatives and others, understand that we are in an economic crisis. And the oldest rule in American politics is: When the economy is bad, it takes up most of the oxygen in the room. ‘A Pledge to America’ is a pledge to put America’s financial house in order as quickly as possible.”

Yuval Levin, director of the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s program on bioethics and American democracy, also pointed to the advance made by social conservatives since 1994.

“The first thing that strikes me (especially in comparing this Pledge to the Contract With America) is how much progress pro-lifers have made both in the arena of public opinion and the intra-Republican debate on the abortion question,” Levin wrote for National Review Online. “The Contract avoided the subject like the plague. This document speaks plainly of a commitment to human life several times, lists abortion funding as a key reason for repealing Obamacare, and promises a government-wide Hyde Amendment. … [P]rogress is progress, and this is definitely progress.”

Some of the social issues language in the document was added late in the process after Rep. Mike Pence, chairman of the Republican Conference, argued for such issues to be included, according to CNN.

The Republicans said in the blueprint they would attempt immediately next year to repeal the controversial health-care law enacted in March. They said President Obama’s executive order he contended would prevent federal funding of abortion under the health-care measure “is inadequate to ensure taxpayer funds are not used in this manner.” That point was made by pro-life leaders before the bill’s passage by the House.

The GOP also pledged to “establish a government-wide prohibition on taxpayer funding of abortion and subsidies for insurance coverage that includes abortion. This prohibition would go further and enact into law what is known as the Hyde Amendment as well as ban other instances of federal subsidies for abortion services.”

Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., introduced in this session of Congress the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, H.R. 5939, which would bar all funding of abortion by the federal government. The Hyde Amendment prohibits funding of most abortions under the Department of Health and Human Services, although it must be renewed annually.

In the document, the House GOP also said it would enact “conscience protections for health care providers, including doctors, nurses, and hospitals.”

In a preamble to the document, the Republicans said, “We pledge to honor families, traditional marriage, life, and the private and faith-based organizations that form the core of our American values.”

They also said in the blueprint they would: (1) Pass medical liability reforms and enable Americans to purchase health insurance from other states; (2) prevent tax increases scheduled to become effective next year; (3) provide a tax deduction for small businesses; (4) act to halt spending of economic stimulus funds that have yet to be spent; (5) require every bill include a constitutional justification for its existence, and (6) make certain the Border Patrol is equipped to secure the country’s borders.

Senate Republican leaders issued a statement endorsing the House blueprint while acknowledging Obama will have the power to veto such efforts even if the GOP gains majorities in both chambers.

House Democratic leaders decried the GOP plan.

“Whatever the Republicans may call their plan, if implemented, would inflict a ‘Plague on Americans,'” Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina said. He said the GOP agenda would send jobs overseas, add $700 billion to the deficit because of tax cuts for the rich and afflict young Americans by privatizing Social Security.

“Our country is just starting to get well again. We can’t afford to suffer the same failed ideas of the past,” Clyburn said.

Pro-life organizations commended the GOP agenda’s promises related to abortion.

“We welcome the Republican leadership’s commitment to repeal and replace the Obama health care law, which is a top priority for the pro-life movement because that law, when fully implemented, would result in the rationing of lifesaving medical treatments, and an array of federal subsidies for abortion as well,” said Douglas Johnson, the National Right to Life Committee’s legislative director. “In addition, a permanent government-wide prohibition on federal funding of abortion is long overdue, and we applaud the inclusion of that legislation in this action plan.”

Penny Nance, chief executive officer of Concerned Women for America, commended the GOP’s agenda but said the party’s follow-up is critical: “It is imperative that the Republicans follow through on addressing the many challenges facing the country. Their actions will ultimately be the pledge to America. If these words aren’t followed by concrete actions, any majority they win this year will likely be short-lived.”

The greatest concerns of social conservatives are outside of Congress, Land said.

“It should also be noted that most of the social conservatives’ agenda is not legislative but is concerned with keeping judges from altering the definitions and values in our society without the consent of the governed,” he said. “It should always be remembered that the issues that most concern social conservatives are those that the judiciary or the executive branch, not the Congress, made political issues, such as abortion, same-sex marriage and reverse discrimination. For the last two generations, most social conservatives have been driven into the public policy arena in defense of values that were under assault not from their elected representatives but from an increasingly egomaniacal judiciary.”

Land called Vaughn Walker, the federal judge who overturned California’s Proposition 8 protecting traditional marriage, the “poster boy for such judicial meddling with the people’s will.”

“Judge Walker’s picture should be in the legal dictionary under the definition of ‘disgraceful and constitutionally dangerous judicial activism,'” he said. “The arrogance of Judge Walker’s opinion is a perfect example of what brought social conservatives into the public arena in defense of their constitutional right to have a government ‘of the people, by the people, for the people.'”
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.