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Democrats Use Constitution Rule to Attack Abortion Bill

Republican priorities collided Friday when a Democrat complained that a GOP bill to limit abortion funding does not comply with a new House rule requiring Members to cite the constitutional authority for all legislation.

At an Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health markup, Rep. Anthony Weiner raised a point of order challenging consideration of the Protect Life Act. The bill would prohibit the use of federal money to pay for abortions under the new health care law passed in the last Congress.

The New York Democrat noted the new House rule that demands a bill’s introduction be accompanied with a statement “citing as specifically as practicable the power or powers granted to Congress in the Constitution” that justify the bill. 

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), who sponsored the bill, had issued a statement accompanying the legislation saying, “Congress has the power to enact this legislation pursuant to the following: The Protect Life Act would overturn an unconstitutional mandate regarding abortion in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”

But Weiner said that was not enough. “Unlike every other bill that has been introduced in this session of Congress by Democrats and Republicans alike, no section of the Constitution is stated, no subsection, no constitutional authority whatsoever,” Weiner said.

While debate ranged from discussion about the rights of the unborn to the legitimacy of the point of order, Weiner focused on the question of whether Pitts’ statement adhered to the rules. 

“The challenge is not whether this is unconstitutional or not — that, you’re right, is subject to interpretation. Our rules put a burden on all sponsors to point to the Constitution and say this section, this clause, this word,” Weiner said. “We failed on that. I don’t think there’s any real dispute on that. No one has yet to hold up a copy of the Constitution with these words highlighted, this section highlighted.”

Rep. Joe Barton, however, stated that he had been informed the bill was submitted properly.

“When this bill was filed on the floor, the document citing the constitutional authority was also filed with it,” the Texas Republican said. “We believe that we are in compliance with our new rule. … If [Democrats] are right, they are right and we will live by the rule, but we are told we have complied with the rule.”

Barton also pointed to Article 1, Section 1 of the Constitution for the authority: “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.”

“Is it not true that the bill that has been introduced is a piece of legislation?” he asked the counsel. “It is a piece of legislation.”

Pitts ultimately ruled that Weiner had not stated a valid point of order and that a challenge could not be brought up during markup. 

In a letter released after the subcommittee meeting, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) called on Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) to block the bill until it is reintroduced with a valid statement of constitutional authority.

Energy and Commerce Republican press secretary Debbee Keller said the challenge is unfounded — and simply a distraction.

“The Democrats are just trying to create a distraction since there is not only bipartisan support in Congress, but overwhelming public support to block the federal government from financing abortions,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Unfortunately, their games come at the expense of the American people. No one seriously questions that the Protect Life Act complies with the House Rules and included the required statement of constitutional authority upon introduction — not even Henry Waxman. We will continue to move forward to codify the president’s executive order through an open, transparent and constitutional process.”

Weiner, however, said today’s ruling showed that Republicans will accept “virtually anything” as a bill’s constitutional underpinning.

“It certainly didn’t take Republicans long to walk away from their own rule,” Weiner told Roll Call in an interview. “If they broke the rule on the first day, I imagine they don’t take it very seriously. What they should have done here is just reintroduce the bill with a proper statement of constitutional authority. Instead of doing that, they said it’s really unnecessary and meaningless — which is a far cry from when they put the rule into place.”