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Freedom Caucus doubles down on poison pill riders

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Jan 10, 2024
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Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The showdown over funding the government or risking a partial shutdown isn't stopping House Freedom Caucus members from insisting that abortion riders and other contentious health policies be included in any funding deal.

  • In fact, they'll have a better chance of pressing their case the longer the appropriations process drags on.

Why it matters: Restrictions on abortion, gender-affirming care or gain-of-function research could give conservatives some needed wins if they can't get Speaker Mike Johnson to agree to cut federal spending.

What they're saying: Freedom Caucus and other GOP members continued to talk tough on health riders after a House Republican conference meeting on Wednesday morning.

  • "Those of us who are pro-life, which is the majority of Republican conference, I would hope would be disappointed and upset if we don't have pro-life policy riders, like the stuff that we fought for in the bills that we've worked on in the House over the last several months," said Freedom Caucus Chair Bob Good.
  • Still, he acknowledged that abortion "is not the only issue," and that he hoped hardline conservative wins would emerge from a process in which individual spending bills are brought up for votes.
  • Votes will be "on a case-by-case basis," he said, with the recognition "you're not going to get everything that you want when you have divided government, but the House majority ought to count for something, where we get at least half of what we want."
  • Rep. Byron Donalds said immigration and the southern border is the top policy issue but added, "there are a ton of policy riders that we want to see in there."
  • Even Rep. Buddy Carter, who's not a Freedom Caucus member, said that "pro-life" riders were still a priority for him and that "we've got a problem" if they aren't included in appropriations bills.

The intrigue: For that to happen in the nine days remaining, Johnson and the conservatives may face pressure to bend on vows not to pass another stopgap spending measure and to instead let the appropriations process play out into the spring.

  • Rep. Matt Rosendale's office told Axios that he's continuing to push riders that would prohibit any federal funds to be used for gender-affirming care at the Defense Department or for gain-of-function research.
  • He's also seeking restrictions on mask mandates or vaccine mandates in the Defense Department and the VA.

What we're watching: Johnson hasn't yet shown his cards on how he'd address a rider that would reverse current FDA regulations that allow the widely used abortion pill mifepristone to be dispensed by mail that's in the first tranche of spending bills facing a Jan. 19 deadline.

  • The provision sank the House Agriculture-FDA spending bill's prospects when it was brought to the floor in September.
  • Rep. Marc Molinaro, who voted against the bill then, told Axios the conference had not discussed policy riders but that he and other GOP dissenters had not changed their position.
  • "I can't imagine an Agriculture appropriations bill that Democrats will vote for that would include provisions like that, because I won't be voting for it if it's included," said Molinaro.

The other side: Rep. Rosa DeLauro told reporters on Tuesday night that Democrats "weren't going to accept policy riders."

  • DeLauro said that when she was the House Democrat's top appropriator and was negotiating with her then-Senate counterpart Richard Shelby, "there was no discussion or debate on programmatic numbers until the riders were gone."
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