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U.S. Has A Long To-Do List In Front Of Them

U.S. congressional lawmakers return to work this week with a lengthy agenda of contentious issues and only 41 legislative days left

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The Capitol Hill building is pictured in Washington, Sept. 5, 2019. (Photo: Diaa Bekheet) VOA

U.S. congressional lawmakers return to work this week with a lengthy agenda of contentious issues and only 41 legislative days left in the year to complete it.

Members of the U.S. Senate and House spent the past six weeks vacationing, taking official fact-finding trips and meeting with constituents and financial supporters. They now return to Capitol Hill facing problems that festered in their absence. Arguably the most pressing challenge will be funding the government ahead of the new fiscal year Oct. 1.

Here is a list of the problems that will keep lawmakers busy heading into the 2020 presidential and congressional election year.

Budget

Lawmakers have just 13 working days to pass a batch of spending bills before government funding runs out at the end of the current fiscal year Sept. 30.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., smiles after vote on a hard-won budget deal that would permit the government to resume borrowing to pay all of its obligations and would remove the prospect of a government shutdown in October. VOA

Before the summer recess, the Democratic-controlled House passed 10 of the 12 annual appropriations bills to keep government departments and agencies operating and to fund defense and social service programs.

The Senate will immediately begin work on its version of the dozen spending bills.

In the unlikely event that both chambers manage to approve all 12 bills, House members and senators would have to reconcile differences in their bills before sending them to the White House for the president’s signature.

Congress and the president will almost certainly have to agree on one or more short-term funding bills to keep the government open until differences are worked out.

The last thing Republicans and Democrats want to see is a government shutdown heading into a crucial election year.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters that a short-term continuing resolution (CR) “would be no more than 60 days,” meaning that — just as in 2018 — Congress would run into a budget battle at the end of the year.

Gun control

While Congress was out of session, the nation was wracked by three high-profile mass shootings in Texas and Ohio that renewed the call for legislative action on gun control. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer unsuccessfully urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to call the Senate back into session in August.

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President Donald Trump speaks at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019, in Washington. VOA

The House Judiciary Committee plans to take action this week by drafting new gun control legislation that would, among other things, ban the sale of high-capacity bullet magazines.

The House passed background check legislation in February that has since languished in the Republican-controlled Senate. In the wake of the mass shootings, Democratic lawmakers called for the passage of “red flag laws” that allow law enforcement officials or family members to petition a court to remove weapons from high-risk individuals.

McConnell told radio host Hugh Hewitt in an interview recently that “If the president is in favor of a number of things that he has discussed openly and publicly, and I know that if we pass it, it’ll become law, I’ll put it on the floor.”

But President Donald Trump has provided little clarity on what kind of gun control legislation he would sign, while seemingly towing the line of the National Rifle Association, which opposes any gun control measures.

Trump initially tweeted, “Guns should not be placed in the hands of mentally ill or deranged people,” only to criticize red flag laws in a subsequent tweet and warn that gun laws are “a slippery slope” that would lead to the end of the Second Amendment. Without the president’s political cover, Senate Republicans are highly unlikely to brave a risky battle to pass such legislation.

Impeachment

The House is returning to work with the majority of the Democratic caucus either calling for impeachment proceedings to begin or stating publicly the president’s actions are deserving of impeachment. To date, 137 of 235 House Democrats and Congressman Justin Amash — the chamber’s lone independent — support impeachment.

 

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 26, 2019. VOA
 Pelosi has so far resisted the push for impeachment, emphasizing the need to win public support for the effort. A July 30 Quinnipiac University poll found that 32% of voters supported Congress beginning the process of impeaching Trump, with 60% of voters saying it should not begin those proceedings.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler muddled that message over the summer recess by telling CNN in an Aug. 8 interview that Democrats’ efforts to obtain evidence through numerous court filings already constituted “formal impeachment proceedings.”

But Democrats agree that a floor vote on impeachment cannot happen until rulings are handed down in numerous court cases in which Democrats are seeking key documents in the investigations into Trump’s finances and foreign dealings.

In the meantime, the House Judiciary Committee announced plans to investigate allegations Trump violated campaign finance laws by paying “hush money” to cover up affairs with adult film star Stormy Daniels and Playboy playmate Karen McDougal.

ALSO READ: Russia Accuses Facebook, Google of Election Interference

Additional issues

Lawmakers could also consider ratification of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) — a top priority of Trump’s.

In an August “Dear Colleagues” letter, Pelosi said the House working group was in discussion with the Trump administration about the need to include environmental protections, lower prescription drug costs and strong labor standards among other concerns before the agreement could come up for a vote.

The Senate will also vote on a two-part resolution that will allow lawmakers to demand greater oversight over Trump administration arms sales to Saudi Arabia. (VOA)

Next Story

Women Seek Abortion Out Of State Due to Restrictions

Women in 'The States' are being strictly held when it comes to abortion

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Abortion rights activists protest outside of the U.S. Supreme Court, during the March for Life in Washington, Jan. 18, 2019. VOA

Women in ‘The States’ are being strictly held when it comes to abortion. But, now they are finding relief out of the state. At a routine ultrasound when she was five months pregnant, Hevan Lunsford began to panic when the technician took longer than normal, then told her she would need to see a specialist.

Lunsford, a nurse in Alabama, knew it was serious and begged for an appointment the next day.

That’s when the doctor gave her and her husband the heart-wrenching news: The baby boy they decided to name Sebastian was severely underdeveloped and had only half a heart. If he survived, he would need care to ease his pain and several surgeries. He may not live long.

Lunsford, devastated, asked the doctor about ending the pregnancy.

“I felt the only way to guarantee that he would not have any suffering was to go through with the abortion,” she said of that painful decision nearly three years ago.

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Bianca Cameron-Schwiesow, from left, Kari Crowe and Margeaux Hartline, dressed as handmaids, take part in a protest against HB314, the abortion ban bill, at the Alabama State House in Montgomery, Ala., April 17, 2019. VOA

But the doctor said Alabama law prohibits abortions after five months. He handed Lunsford a piece of paper with information for a clinic in Atlanta, a roughly 180-mile (290-kilometer) drive east.

Lunsford is one of thousands of women in the U.S. who have crossed state lines for an abortion in recent years as states have passed ever stricter laws and as the number of clinics has declined.

Although abortion opponents say the laws are intended to reduce abortions and not send people to other states, at least 276,000 women terminated their pregnancies outside their home states between 2012 and 2017, according to an Associated Press analysis of data collected from state reports and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In New Mexico, the number of women from out of state who had abortions more than doubled in that period, while Missouri women represented nearly half the abortions performed in neighboring Kansas.

“The procedure itself was probably the least traumatic part of it,” Lunsford said. “If it would have been at my hospital, there would have been a feeling like what I was doing was OK and a reasonable choice.”

While abortions across the U.S. are down, the share of women who had abortions out of state rose slightly, by half a percentage point, and certain states had notable increases over the five-year period, according to AP’s analysis.

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Abortion rights supporters protest at the Louisiana Capitol, where lawmakers were considering a bill that would ban abortion as early as six weeks of pregnancy, May 21, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La. The bill won final passage May 29. VOA

In pockets of the Midwest, South and Mountain West, the number of women terminating a pregnancy in another state rose considerably, particularly where a lack of clinics means the closest provider is in another state or where less restrictive policies in a neighboring state make it easier and quicker to terminate a pregnancy there.

“In many places, the right to abortion exists on paper, but the ability to access it is almost impossible,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Women’s Health, which operates seven abortion clinics in Maryland, Indiana, Texas, Virginia and Minnesota. “We see people’s access to care depend on their ZIP code.”

The numbers 

Nationwide, women who traveled from other states received at least 44,860 abortions in 2017, the most recent year for which data are available, according to the AP analysis of data from 41 states.

That’s about 10% of all reported procedures that year, but counts from nine states, including highly populated California and Florida, and the District Columbia were not included, either because they were not collected or reported across the full five years.

Thirteen states saw a rise in the number of out-of-state women having abortions between 2012 and 2017.

New Mexico’s share of abortions performed on women from out of state more than doubled, from 11% to roughly 25%. One likely reason is that a clinic in Albuquerque is one of only a few independent facilities in the country that perform abortions close to the third trimester without conditions.

Georgia’s share of abortions performed on out-of-state women rose from 11.5% to 15%. While Georgia has passed restrictive laws, experts and advocates still view it as more accessible than some neighboring states.

In Illinois, the percentage of abortions performed on non-residents more than doubled to 16.5% of all reported state abortions in 2017. That is being driven in large part by women from Missouri, one of six states with only a single abortion provider.

Even that provider, in St. Louis, has been under threat of closing after the state health department refused to renew its license.

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Abortion rights and anti-abortion rights protesters stand outside Planned Parenthood as a deadline looms to renew the license of Missouri’s sole remaining Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis, May 31, 2019. VOA

Missouri lawmakers also passed a law this year that would ban almost all abortions past eight weeks of a pregnancy, but it faces a legal challenge.

About 10 miles (16 kilometers) from St. Louis, across the Mississippi River, is the Hope Clinic in Granite City, Illinois, which has seen a 30% increase in patients this year and has added two doctors, deputy director Alison Dreith said.

About 55 percent of its patients come from Missouri, and it also sees women from Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio. All those states have mandatory waiting periods to receive an abortion, a requirement Illinois does not have.

Dreith called it a scary time for women in states with highly restrictive laws and few clinics.

“The landscape that we’re seeing today did not happen overnight, and it was not by accident,” she said.

And Illinois isn’t the only place Missouri women are heading for abortions.

In 2017, Missouri women received 47% of all abortions performed in Kansas. That is in large part because the only access to the procedure throughout western Missouri, particularly the greater Kansas City area, is across the state line in Overland Park, Kansas.

Women, Abortion, Restriction, USA
In pockets of the Midwest, South and Mountain West, the number of women terminating a pregnancy in another state rose considerably, particularly where a lack of clinics means the closest provider is in another state or where less restrictive policies in a neighboring state make it easier and quicker to terminate a pregnancy there. VOA

Legislative action 

Between 2011 and May 31 of this year, 33 states passed 480 laws restricting abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.

In 2019 alone, lawmakers approved 58 restrictions, primarily in the Midwest, Plains and South — almost half of which would ban all, most or some abortions, the group said.

The most high-profile laws, which face legal challenges that could eventually test the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected — as early as six weeks.

Advocates say that if the Supreme Court upholds the latest restrictions, it will become more common for women to seek abortions in other states.

“The intent of these lawmakers is to completely outlaw abortion and force people not to have abortions. But in reality, it pushes people farther and wider to access the care they want and need,” said Quita Tinsley, deputy director of Access Reproductive Care Southeast.

ARC Southeast is part of the National Network of Abortion Funds, a collective of 70 abortion support groups for women in six Southeast states. Some provide money to women to pay for abortions, while others also help with transportation, lodging and child care.

A third of women calling the group’s hotline for help end up traveling out of state for abortions, Tinsley said. Many choose Georgia because it’s convenient to get to and considered slightly less restrictive than some other states in the South.

In Georgia, which has a mandatory waiting period, a woman is not required to come to a clinic twice, as they are in Tennessee. But if Georgia’s new fetal heartbeat law survives a court challenge, it would have one of the earliest state-imposed abortion bans.

That would force many women to go even farther from where they live to terminate their pregnancies.

Increase in New Mexico 

Of all states, New Mexico has seen the biggest increase in the number of women coming from elsewhere for an abortion — a 158% jump between 2012 and 2017, according to AP’s analysis.

The New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice helps an average of 100 women a year but is on track to assist 200 this year. Some of its 55 volunteers open their homes to women coming from out of state.

Executive director Joan Lamunyon Sanford said her group is doing what faith communities have always done: “Care for the stranger and welcome the traveler.”

Lamunyon Sanford said the need is growing as barriers increase and women are unable to access care where they live.

“They have to figure out so many details and figuring out how they are going to get the funding for everything,” she said. “Sometimes it’s just too much. And then they become parents.”

The coalition helped Beth Vial, who didn’t learn she was pregnant until she was six months along after chronic medical conditions masked her symptoms.

As a 22-year-old college student living in Portland, Oregon, Vial was beyond the point when nearly every abortion clinic in the country would perform the procedure.

Vial’s only option for an abortion was New Mexico, where a volunteer wi