Rep. Mary Bono Mack and Sen. Barbara Boxer

 

10:36 AM, Mar. 4, 2011 |
Written by PAUL C. BARTON
Desert Sun Washington Bureau

As the crow flies, the hometowns of Rep. Mary Bono Mack and Sen. Barbara Boxer — Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage — lie within 10 miles of each other.

But when it comes to challenges facing the federal government, Bono Mack and Boxer might as well hail from different planets.

Since the tea party-driven Republican majority took control of the House of Representatives this year, Democrat Boxer’s public comments and news releases have reflected anger, even horror, at its initiatives on the environment and abortion and cutting numerous domestic programs. She has vowed to stop them all in the Senate.

Bono Mack’s comments and statements have reflected confidence that House Republicans are tackling the tough budget decisions necessary to restore fiscal sanity and that the Republican’s constituents want such a course. She also sees her party as following a more “sensible” approach to divisive issues such as the environment and abortion.

One of the few times Bono Mack parted company with GOP colleagues came on an amendment to the recent House resolution setting federal spending for the remaining seven months of fiscal year 2011. The provision, offered by Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., zeroed out family planning, a service that conservatives often associate with abortion.

Bono Mack, one of only seven Republicans to oppose the amendment, said in a statement that family planning’s other services remain crucial to women and that to cut them off “is a huge mistake and poses a threat to the health of tens of thousands of American women.”

“Breast cancer screenings, pelvic exams, Pap tests, HPV (cervical cancer) tests and scores of other vitally important health care services — services that save lives — would be unfairly impacted,” Bono Mack said.

However, since she later voted for the entire spending bill, including the Pence amendment, her first vote wasn’t good enough to satisfy abortion-rights groups such as NARAL Pro-Choice America.

That, and her vote in the House Energy and Conference Committee for another abortion-related measure, prompted the group to recommend stripping the “moderate” qualifier occasionally applied to Bono Mack’s Republicanism.

The bill would prevent private insurers that offer abortion coverage from participating in the regional health insurance markets called for by last year’s health care law. They would have to come up with alternate plans that don’t cover abortion.

Bono Mack called that a step consistent with the Hyde Amendment, a decades-old provision attached to spending bills annually to prevent federal funding of abortions.

HR 358, sponsored by Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., also permits doctors at hospitals receiving federal funds to refuse to perform abortions even if a pregnancy threatens the life of the mother.

“The Congresswoman’s record on this issue is clear and the federal government should not force hospitals run by churches, religious organizations or those who oppose abortions on the basis of faith to perform such procedures,” said Bono Mack’s spokeswoman, Anjulen Anderson.

Abortion opponents such as the National Right to Life Committee had urged “robust protections for health care providers who do not wish to collaborate in providing abortions.”

“How is this moderate?” asked NARAL President Nancy Keenan.

A spokeswoman for the Susan B. Anthony List, a prominent anti-abortion group, told Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, “there will be [electoral] consequences” for Bono Mack and others who opposed the Pence amendment.

Almost as soon as HR 358 and other anti-abortion bills appeared on the horizon, Boxer called a news conference denouncing them.

“We are sending a clear message to House Republicans that their agenda on women’s health is extreme … and it risks the health and lives of women,” Boxer said.

Polar opposites

“Extreme” also is a word Boxer uses in describing the Republican spending plan for the remainder of 2011.

Not only does it deny family planning funding, she said; it also dramatically reduces funding for programs such as community health centers, K-12 education, employment training and Pell grants for college students.

The senator said Republicans wrongly used the budget process to pursue “political vendettas” against long-established programs, threatening 800,000 jobs nationwide and the “fragile economic recovery.”

Bono Mack, however, considered the cuts right on target.

“More tough choices must still be made as we move forward. Faced with a crushing $15 trillion national debt in the not-too-distant future, a radical course correction is needed to avert a looming financial catastrophe,” she said.

“Making these difficult decisions is not easy, and many good programs are going to be cut or even eliminated in the months and years ahead. But tough times require tough choices. Like every American family, Washington must weigh ‘what we want’ versus ‘what we need.”’

Debate heats up

And then comes the environment. Bono Mack has made it clear she supports legislation to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon. Such decisions are the prerogative of Congress, not that of unelected bureaucrats, she and others say.

Some environmentalists, meanwhile, accused Bono Mack of doing a 180-degree turn from her 2009 vote to support a cap-and-trade market for greenhouse gases.

Boxer, chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, watched from the other side of Capitol Hill and then wrote to The Desert Sun, saying:

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