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Dornan Offensive Overruns Defense Bill : Legislation: Socially conservative Republicans team with Democrats to defeat $243-billion spending plan that fails to include O.C. congressman’s ban on abortions at military facilities overseas.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Socially conservative Republicans in Congress rallied to defeat a $243-billion defense spending bill Friday largely because it did not include an anti-abortion amendment sponsored by Orange County Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove).

The appropriations bill, negotiated by House and Senate members, included funding for such California job-rich projects as the B-2 bomber. By a vote of 267 to 151, the measure was knocked down by an unlikely alliance of Republican abortion opponents and Democrats who have long assailed the GOP’s defense priorities.

Dornan’s amendment, originally approved by the House but rejected by the Senate, would ban military personnel and their dependents from obtaining abortions at overseas military facilities, even if they pay for them at their own expense. The legislation would restore a policy imposed late in the Ronald Reagan Administration but reversed by President Clinton.

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“It’s a high-water mark of extremism,” said Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. “We have a Republican Congress that’s so obsessed by the goal of taking down a woman’s right of choice that they will go to this length to take down the whole Defense Department’s appropriations bill. It’s extraordinary, but it’s real.”

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House and Senate negotiators agreed to include the Dornan amendment in the defense spending bill, but only if a separate committee that authorizes the spending also agreed to include the anti-abortion language. However, the authorization committee is deadlocked on several issues and has not taken final action.

Before Friday’s House floor vote, anti-abortion and pro-family groups lobbied for the provision, and the National Right to Life group said this vote would be included in the members’ rankings on the abortion issue.

Even those Republicans who usually are hawkish on defense issues broke ranks with their leadership. GOP members voted 130 to 98 against the defense spending bill.

Dornan, who chairs the House National Security subcommittee on military personnel, said the abortion issue was more important than funding for the B-2 bomber.

“St. Peter, on my Judgment Day, will not ask me about the B-2 or my defense votes, he will ask me about my vote to protect innocent human life,” Dornan said during the debate on the House floor.

Republican leaders bristled when they realized the spending bill was about to be defeated by “one-issue” House members.

“I am a 100% pro-lifer, I believe in the sanctity of life . . . [but] I am not going to let that one issue come between me and protecting my constituents,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Livingston (R-La.), his voice quivering as he shouted his opposition to the anti-abortion strategy.

Livingston also warned that further negotiations on this bill would lead to a watered-down version on defense issues that are important to Republicans.

“When the bill comes back, it will not provide as well as this bill does,” Livingston told his fellow Republicans. “You will have shot yourselves in the feet.”

Awash in the excitement of victory, Dornan said after the vote that it was a message to the Senate and to the House leadership that social conservatives will not trampled.

“Remember who brought you to the den,” Dornan said of the House leaders, including Speaker Newt Gingrich. “It was the social issues people that made us [House committee] chairmen, and the strongest issue among the social issues is abortion.”

The measure included $493 million to extend production of the B-2 bomber beyond the 20 warplanes the Pentagon says are required. Its defeat was a setback for the Northrop-Grumman Corp., which had waged a long campaign to win this crucial production order that would keep plants open.

“Dornan was standing next to me and said he had assuaged his guilt for all his past sins. It was a typical Dornan comment,” said Rep. Jane Harman, (D-Rolling Hills), a key builder of bipartisan support for the B-2 bomber.

“A majority of Republicans voted ‘no’ on their own highest priority,” Harman added. "[The defeat] could reopen all the carefully crafted deals” to secure the needed votes.

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The defense bill also contained $700 million for the third Seawolf-class submarine--about half of what the Pentagon requested--as well as military pay raises and increases in housing allowances that were championed by Dornan and his subcommittee.

“Who is known in the military as the protector of pay raises? I am,” Dornan said, defending his “no” vote on the appropriations bill. “I am second to no one in the House or Senate on pro-defense issues. . . . Our national defense is meaningless if we fail to protect innocent American lives in the womb.”

The bill will now be sent back to House and Senate negotiators and must be resolved during the next six weeks while Congress and the White House come up with a budget agreement.

Times staff writer Ralph Vartabedian contributed to this report.


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