It’s the unfinished business that trips you up in the end. Republicans in Congress left Washington for the August recess without taking any action on federal funding of Planned Parenthood when public opinion over the Center for Medical Progress videos gave them some political momentum. With more videos now out, Republicans have returned to Capitol Hill with conservatives demanding some action, while leadership tries to negotiate budget deadlines and a potential shutdown:
Congressional Republican leaders returned to Washington this week with no clear plan for extending government funding later this month that risks shutting down federal agencies amid a growing outcry from conservatives ready for a fight over funding Planned Parenthood.
The once-normal process of approving a stopgap bill that keeps the federal government operating on the previous year’s fiscal budget has become anything but routine during House Speaker John A. Boehner’s five-year tenure. This latest showdown, like its recent predecessors, is another example that brinksmanship — involving countdown clocks and advisories to federal workers about the possible expiration of funding on Sept. 30 — is the new normal.
Boehner (R-Ohio) said Wednesday that there was “widespread support” among House Republicans to approve a stopgap bill well into the fall to allow for more time to negotiate final budget numbers with President Obama. But, he acknowledged, GOP leaders have not decided how to handle the large demand for language in the funding plan that would strip Planned Parenthood of the small amount of federal funds it receives each year following the release of undercover videos alleging that some agents of the group sell body parts of aborted fetuses.
“I have not made any decisions,” Boehner told reporters after a regular closed-door meeting of the Republican caucus. “No decisions at this point.”
According to my interview with Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI) on Tuesday, a shutdown over Planned Parenthood is not likely. While there is broad support for defunding Planned Parenthood, the support for taking that issue to a shutdown is much narrower and unlikely to carry much weight. Ribble does believe a shutdown may occur, but it will be over the budget caps passed in 2011, which Democrats want repealed. Barack Obama will almost certainly veto the upcoming appropriations bills over this issue, in a demand to increase funding across the board by hundreds of billions of dollars, which makes the Title X funding of Planned Parenthood — around $100 million a year — look like a side issue.
What people want is action of some kind, rather than lengthy descriptions of what a Republican majority in both chambers of Congress can’t do. Most people don’t want a shutdown over such a tiny fraction of the federal budget — that won’t necessarily be true of the budget caps though — but they want Congress to do something. Why not pass a standalone bill to strip Planned Parenthood and other clinics that perform abortions of their Title X and Medicaid eligibility by statute rather than budget bills, and force Barack Obama to veto it? That’s what Republican leadership in Congress should have been doing all year long — confronting Obama on his executive actions, on abortion, on immigration, by forcing him to act and live with the consequences. Those actions might not produce immediate change, but neither does sitting on one’s hands, and at least it makes one point excruciatingly clear: to really change things, voters have to choose a different kind of President.
If they had spent 2015 doing this as well as handling budgets professionally, they might not have left an opening for Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and/or Carly Fiorina.
Congress will have nearly no chance to impact Planned Parenthood Medicaid funding through the budget process anyway, as it’s an entitlement program (not an appropriation) where patient choice overrides Congressional preferences. Ironically, that market has been drying up for Planned Parenthood anyway, thanks to … the Democrats?
Many formerly uninsured women who once depended on Planned Parenthood for low-cost access to birth control, abortions and other reproductive healthcare have gotten coverage under President Barack Obama’s healthcare law, making them less reliant on the organization’s 700 clinics.
In many states, Planned Parenthood is losing clients as newly insured patients turn to medical providers included in their health plan’s networks, according to data provided to Reuters and interviews with more than two dozen of its affiliates. …
Planned Parenthood client numbers nationwide are on the decline. Part of the drop in patient numbers can be traced to decisions by legislatures in Republican-leaning states like Texas to cut funding to affiliates beginning in 2011.
The declines then accelerated after Obamacare took full effect in 2014, when Planned Parenthood served 2.68 million patients, down about six percent from 2.84 million a year earlier, according to numbers last updated in July.
The decline was apparent even in areas like upstate New York, New England and parts of the Midwest, which have not seen decreases in state funding.
The declines may accelerate as people begin to absorb the organ-harvesting machinations at Planned Parenthood too, and decide to access “health” care elsewhere. The cultural impact of these videos needs to mature before political support for policymaking fights can succeed; otherwise, the politics will eclipse the cultural impact of the videos and an opportunity to change hearts will be lost, or at least diluted. That is the danger of having a shutdown fight over Title X funding at this moment. It’s better to pin funding of organ-harvesting clinics on Obama and the Democratic Party and spend the effort spreading the word about what happens in those clinics, rather than have it overshadowed by political coverage of yet another budget stalemate in Washington DC.