Joe Biden never got the opportunity to break a single 50-50 Senate tie in eight years as vice president. Mike Pence has already broken two.
One from last month has since become law: a measure allowing states to withhold federal Planned Parenthood funding. (The other was to confirm Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary, despite her contentious positions on issues from private school vouchers to armed teachers.)
Women’s health care provider organization Planned Parenthood has long been a bete noire for Republicans. After a 2015 sting operation of questionable legality by pro-life activists released videos purporting to reveal the organization’s employees trying to sell fetal body parts in violation of law, Republicans pledged to discontinue all government funding -- both federal and state -- for the group. (California has charged the Center for Medical Progress, the group behind the sting videos, with 15 felony counts of invasion of privacy.)
Donald Trump joined that defunding pledge in a February 2016 Republican primary debate, though unlike many in the GOP he also offered at least a partial defense of their medical services. “Millions of millions of women -- cervical cancer, breast cancer -- are helped by Planned Parenthood,” Trump said. “I would defund it because I'm pro-life, but millions of women are helped by Planned Parenthood."
The organization has received federal funding since 1970, ironically beginning under Republican President Richard Nixon. Today 43 percent of their funding comes from government sources, with the remainder comprising a combination of private donations and non-government revenue sources. But at least 14 Republican-led states have made moves to withhold federal funding to Planned Parenthood affiliates in their states.
What the bill does
A December 2016 rule by President Barack Obama’s Health and Human Services during the lame duck session would have prevented states from withholding federal funds for “family-planning services,” of which by far the largest and most prominent one is Planned Parenthood.
It was scheduled to go into effect on January 18, two days before Trump became president, but was blocked by Texas federal judge Reed O’Connor before it could be officially implemented. However, it remained possible that ruling could still be reversed on appeal.
H.J. Res. 43 and S.J. Res. 13, sponsored by Rep. Diane Black (R-TN6) in the House and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) in the Senate, were introduced to legislatively overturn the Obama measure and allow states to withhold federal Planned Parenthood funding to clinics in their states. The legislation is now Public Law 115-23.
What supporters say
Supporters say the legislation prevents taxpayers from subsidizing an organization that millions of them find morally reprehensible.
“Sadly, in a parting gift to the abortion industry, President Obama stole this freedom and flexibility and forced his own political agenda on states across the country,” House lead sponsor Black said in a statement. “While I am unapologetically pro-life, this bill is simply about states’ rights, and I am pleased to see President Trump putting the American people -- not bureaucrats in Washington -- back in the driver’s seat, empowering states like Tennessee to steer their Title X funds away from abortion-centric facilities like Planned Parenthood.”
What opponents say
Opponents claim the legislation will jeopardize the health of millions of women, especially lower-income women and/or women of color. They also worry this could be among the opening salvos in an imminent bid to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion nationwide.
“Four million people depend on the Title X family planning program, and by signing this bill, President Trump disregards their health and well-being... Too many women still face barriers to health care, especially young women, women of color, those who live in rural areas, and women with low incomes,” Executive Vice President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America Dawn Laguens said in a statement. “Women marched in historic numbers the day after the inauguration because they feared the worst. Their worst fears are now coming true.”
Opponents also note that while Republicans’ primary criticism of Planned Parenthood is their abortion services, only 3 percent of their health care services performed relate to abortion. Not only that, but the longstanding Hyde Amendment prevents federal funds from going directly to abortions anyway. Federal funds directly support Planned Parenthood’s other services including STD tests, breast exams, pregnancy tests, and providing contraception.
Votes for passage
After attracting 147 cosponsors in the House, all but one a Republican, the bill passed the House by 230-188 on February 14. Two Republicans voted against: Reps. Charles Dent (R-PA15) and John Faso (R-NY19). Two Democrats voted in favor: Reps. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL3) and Collin Peterson (D-MN7).
It then originally tied 50-50 in the Senate on March 30. Two Republicans voted against: Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). No Senate Democrats voted in favor. Republican Vice President Pence then broke the tie with a vote in favor.
President Trump signed it into law on April 13.