WASHINGTON -- Top Capitol Hill Democrats are intent on preserving a four-decade ban on taxpayer-financed abortions despite calls from their party's presidential candidates to abandon it, arguing that attempts to undo the longstanding consensus will fail and won't be worth scuttling a key education and health funding bill.
While presidential candidates such as Democratic front-runner Joe Biden hustle to rewrite their positions on the so-called Hyde Amendment, legislative veterans such as Rep. Rosa DeLauro have worked behind the scenes to smooth the waters for the provision.
It is a long-settled feature of the annual funding measure, which contains numerous programs dear to Democrats.
Powering the pragmatic approach is simple reality: The GOP-controlled Senate simply won't pass the measure unless the abortion provision stays in and even if it did, President Donald Trump would swiftly veto it.
It's a different story on the presidential campaign trail, however, where Biden's reversal on the Hyde Amendment -- named after former Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., an anti-abortion stalwart -- attracted lots of attention over the past week. Biden, a Roman Catholic who has wrestled with abortion-related issues, supported the amendment for decades only to reverse course last week to embrace federally-funded abortion.
Most of the rest of the Democratic field already opposed the Hyde Amendment, though many of them have voted for in during their Senate or House careers as part of larger appropriations bills.
In fact, the Democratic efforts this week to repeal the Hyde Amendment appear designed to fail. Hyde first added the provision to the annual measure in 1976, and some Democrats, including top leaders like Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, have voted for it dozens of times.
Liberal opponents of the provision, led by Rep. Barbara Lee of California, are seeking to offer an anti-Hyde provision to the almost $1 trillion spending bill combining health and education spending with the budget for the Pentagon and a handful of other Cabinet departments.
But their approach wouldn't just repeal the Hyde Amendment. It would also mandate new policy to require that the government "ensure coverage for abortion in public health insurance programs" and other steps.