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Republican moderates stymie McCarthy on agriculture, FDA bill

House Republicans failed to pass legislation to fund Agriculture, Rural Development and the Food and Drug Administration late Thursday night after more than two dozen moderate Republicans came out against a provision that would limit access to an abortion pill.

The chamber voted down the measure in a 191-237 vote, with 27 Republicans joining all Democrats in opposition.

The failed vote marks a setback for Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who has been working to clear fiscal year 2024 appropriations bills ahead of the Sept. 30 government funding deadline.

Passing the agriculture legislation — or the other 11 appropriations bills — would not help Congress fund the government and avoid a shutdown by Saturday’s midnight deadline, but House GOP leaders are hoping that the consideration of the single-subject funding measures will help sway hardline conservatives to support a stopgap bill to keep the lights on in Washington past the weekend deadline.

Thursday night’s failed vote, however, did not come as a total surprise.

The funding bill was on thin ice Wednesday, when a handful of GOP moderates said they would not support the legislation because it included a provision that would limit access to mifepristone, an abortion pill. The legislation calls for nullifying a Biden administration rule allowing mifepristone to be sold in retail pharmacies and by mail with prescriptions from a certified health care provider.

Reps. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) and Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.) said Wednesday that they could not support the bill as it was written because of the mifepristone provision. Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-N.Y.), told The Hill that he would vote against the legislation in part because of the abortion pill language.

And Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) told reporters on Wednesday that his “position hasn’t changed” on the legislation. In July, he said “some states allow it to be mailed, some states don’t,” but that the decision should be left up to the states and the FDA.

A group of Democrats submitted an amendment to strike the mifepristone provision from the legislation, but it was not put in order for a vote.

The agriculture funding bill pursues a menu of spending cuts, which Democrats have said would harm recipients of programs like Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). 

“Some 4.6 million women and children would also get severely reduced food and vegetable vouchers,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, said this week.

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