It's tempting to think that in a fight over a congressional spending bill, Democrats and Republicans would be arguing over finances. But when it came to shape the $1.1 trillion spending package that funds most of the government in 2015, many of the fights had nothing to do with money at all.
Cultural conservatives in the House and Senate were also pressing to include a "conscience clause" for employers who say funding contraception violates their religious beliefs.
The Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling already tackled this issue, but the scope of the ruling didn't apply to all employers, so apparently some Republicans decided to tackle the issue in the so-called "Cromnibus" spending package. Caitlin MacNeal called it a "sneak attack
" from the right, with conservatives trying to get this policy through without any real debate.
Given the circumstances, leaders in both parties were carefully scrutinizing the language written by their rivals, and in this case, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) balked at the GOP's attempt to curtail birth control access. Lauren French reported
...Pelosi was opposed, a senior Democratic source said. Republicans will likely depend on Democratic votes to pass the spending bill, so both parties have been negotiating over the language of the legislation. Pelosi tapped Democratic negotiators to draw "a firm line" against any changes that focused on the so-called 'conscience clause', a senior Democratic source said.
"This kind of political maneuvering -- using must-pass legislation to accomplish a 'wish list' of one faction of Congress and risking a government shutdown -- is precisely the kind of behavior the American people detest. We urge you in the strongest possible terms to keep any appropriations legislation considered before the close of the 113th Congress free from ideological policy riders," Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) wrote in a letter to Boehner earlier this week.
What I find interesting about this isn't just the behind-the-scenes wrangling, but also the peek at Republican priorities.
Even now, after the Hobby Lobby ruling, after all the criticisms of Republicans for focusing so heavily on women's health care choices, GOP lawmakers are still looking for ways to limit access to birth control.
What's more, this comes against the backdrop of Republican plans to tackle anti-abortion legislation
with their expanded power in the wake of the 2014 elections.
Do prominent GOP figures talk up the far-right culture war as a top priority for the party? No. Do Republicans still quietly intend to advance their agenda on hot-button social issues? Yes.