- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Two abortion-related provisions are missing from the Senate omnibus spending bill expected to pass the chamber soon, congressional and administration aides say.
One of the provisions prohibits covering abortions in the federal employee health benefits program, except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at stake. The program covers more than 8 million federal workers and their dependents.
The second provision is a ban on providing abortions in the federal Bureau of Prisons, except in cases of rape or when the life of the mother is at stake.
Both provisions would simply extend current law and traditionally are included in final spending bills, said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee. The federal employee health benefits provision has been in place for about 20 years with a roughly two-year absence during the Clinton administration, and the federal prison abortion ban dates back "well into the 1980s," he said.
The Senate omnibus bill wraps together 11 fiscal 2003 spending bills that Congress didn't complete last year.
In its overall review of the Senate omnibus bill, the White House noted that it omits "current law provisions relating to abortion," a reference to the employee health care and prison measures, said Office of Management and Budget spokeswoman Amy Call.
"If the final version of the bill did not include all current law provisions prohibiting the use of federal funds for abortions, the president's senior advisers would recommend he veto the bill," said the administration's review of the bill.
Republicans could try to offer an amendment on the Senate floor to restore the abortion-related provisions or, to avoid a floor fight and advance the bill, they could wait and address the issues during the House-Senate conference on the bill.
Mr. Johnson was not worried either way. "Whichever way it goes, we're confident the language will be restored in conference," he said. House and Senate Republican aides agreed.
Sen. Peter G. Fitzgerald, Illinois Republican, has filed an amendment to the omnibus bill that would restore the abortion ban in the federal employee health benefits program.
Mr. Fitzgerald said he is trying to push his amendment but did not know when he would be allowed to bring it to the floor. "It's going to be close," he said, adding that he is hopeful the House will stand up for the amendment in conference if it fails in the Senate.
A Senate Republican leadership aide noted that both abortion provisions typically originate in the House spending bills but that this time the Senate is going first in considering the omnibus spending bill. The aide said the veto threat was simply a reminder that the final spending bill should contain these provisions.
The federal employees health benefits program language was part of the fiscal 2003 House Treasury Postal spending bill, which passed the House in July. The prison language is included in the fiscal 2003 House Commerce-Justice-State spending bill, which was introduced in the House.
Meanwhile, presidential hopeful Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat, proposed an amendment to the omnibus spending bill yesterday that would suspend for at least six months an Environmental Protection Agency rule change that would loosen factory pollution regulations.
Mr. Edwards said he wanted a study on how the EPA rule changes would affect public health.
"It's about keeping our air clean so that kids won't have asthma attacks and so seniors won't have heart attacks," he said.
James G. Lakely contributed to this report.

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