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Mixing abortion funding and transportation

There should be admiration for those Republicans who have seemed willing to take stock of their party, then willing to suggest some fundamental change to the way it has been conducting business which, many of them have concluded, is out of step and increasingly unappetizing to the public.

Exit polls last November showed that the GOP was losing ground fast with Hispanics and women, and while the party seems much more receptive to comprehensive immigration reform, we remain amazed and chagrined that the war on women continues.

How else to explain Gov. McDonnell’s otherwise inexplicable attachment of an amendment to the bipartisan transportation bill that forbids any insurance company doing business in the commonwealth through the federally mandated insurance exchanges from covering the cost of an abortion?

“That’s right, women paying for their own health insurance with their own money wouldn’t be covered for a critical health-care service,” as Lauren Harmon noted in an email blast from the Democratic Party of Virginia.

A couple of issues are confusing. For one, is a governor able to amend federal law like this at a whim?

For another, while taking refuge behind the old chestnut that he is just trying to prevent public money from being used to fund abortions, how does that work, exactly, in this case?

The exchanges are designed to sell health insurance to people, and while there are numerous supplements and reductions to help people who can’t afford health insurance, isn’t the state government getting a bit too intrusive in forbidding women from buying a legal product with their own money?

And if, somehow, public money were to be used to fund abortions, isn’t that something for the federal government to deal with, when it’s happening under the auspices of federal law, not the laws of the state?

For a time last year, McDonnell was widely considered to be a serious candidate for the vice presidential slot on Mitt Romney’s ticket, and he is widely credited by the pundits with having national political aspirations when his term as governor comes to an end.

He is the perfect embodiment of GOP politicians caught between rocks and hard places. He may have inserted this amendment to appease the far right, which was unhappy with the transportation plan because, they say, it raises taxes.

Appeasing the hard right, which is adept at turning out its supporters, is important when it comes to winning primaries. But as demonstrated quite clearly last fall, those candidates who have done the appeasing can’t win on the larger stage, which, as a whole, is decidedly more centrist.

The other bothersome issue here is the attachment of this amendment to a transportation bill in the first place. Democrats challenged that coupling, saying the amendment was not closely enough related to the original bill, but Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who presides over the Senate, ruled against them.

The only theory that we can come up with is that women drive to visit doctors. There is no other plausible rationale for attaching this amendment to a transportation bill.

Gov. McDonnell could be on the national stage in a few years, perhaps playing a very prominent role there. This will come back to haunt him.