In what has become an annual tradition, congressional Republicans are once again threatening to shut down the federal government — this time, over Planned Parenthood.
On Friday, Republicans in the House of Representatives voted along party lines to pass legislation that would immediately stop federal funds from going to Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest provider of reproductive health care for low-income women. Since Democrats have the votes to block the measure in the Senate, and President Obama has promised to veto any spending bill that doesn’t fund Planned Parenthood, the proposal isn’t likely to become law — but with Republicans threatening to go to any extreme to force their anti-choice agenda on the rest of the country, it’s looking increasingly likely that this partisan impasse will lead to a repeat of 2013, when the GOP shut down the federal government over Obamacare.
As the deadline to pass a budget draws near, here’s what you need to know about the GOP’s deranged plan to orchestrate another government shutdown:
1. Why are Republicans going after Planned Parenthood?
Well for starters, this is hardly anything new: Republican-led attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, at both the state and federal levels, go back at least 30 years. In 2011, the current attacks on Planned Parenthood started earlier this summer, when an anti-abortion group called the Center for Medical Progress released a series of now-debunked undercover video clips purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the illegal sale of fetal tissue donation. Of course, that’ not what the footage actually shows. In reality, the illegally recorded videos show Planned Parenthood representatives discussing their participation in the legal donation of fetal tissue for research purposes.
Despite being discredited almost immediately after their release, these videos have been exploited by conservatives and used to justify costly investigations of the organization in states across the country. And every single one of those investigations has cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing.
So if Planned Parenthood isn’t doing anything wrong with their participation in fetal tissue donation programs, why are Republicans still clamoring to defund them? Because that wasn’t the issue in the first place. This sentence from Politico says it all:
Republicans have sought to use the videos to revive the debate over abortion, which has been largely dormant since former Rep. Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments derailed his 2012 bid for a Senate seat.
Clearly, it is not a coincidence that these videos surfaced just as the 2016 primaries started to heat up. RH Reality Check compiles the evidence, including the undisputed fact that Republican House leaders saw the video at least a month before it was publicly released and did nothing but wait until its release, then jump on the investigate/defund bandwagon. They obviously weren’t concerned with anyone’s well-being — for them, the footage was just a new excuse to renew their war on abortion rights.
2. Are they serious about shutting down the government?
Although House and Senate GOP leaders have signaled they’re not interested in repeating their disastrous 2013 shutdown, many rank and file Republicans — including several 2016 presidential contenders — are rallying behind a plan to do just that.
GOP firebrand Ted Cruz, who led the party over a cliff in the 2013 government shutdown, is once again spearheading efforts to hold the federal government hostage, calling for Republicans to do everything they can to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood — even if it means a government shutdown fight this fall. And he’s not alone. Already, at least 31 House Republicans have signed on to a Heritage Action pledge promising to do whatever is necessary to “fully defund Planned Parenthood” and vowing to oppose any resolution or appropriation bill that does not accomplish this objective. A majority of Republicans in the Senate have already demonstrated a desire to defund the organization, too, but not enough to overcome a filibuster by Democrats.
Perhaps most significantly, the House Freedom Caucus — a group of 42 conservative members known for derailing leadership’s plans and obstructing the political process — took up an official position on the issue Thursday, promising to block any spending bill that doesn’t defund Planned Parenthood, Roll Call reports. In a statement, the House Freedom Caucus cited the discredited videos as their rationale for making this latest series of unabashedly irrational demands:
“Given the appalling revelations surrounding Planned Parenthood, we cannot in good moral conscience vote to send taxpayer money to this organization while still fulfilling our duty to represent our constituents. We must therefore oppose any spending measure that contains funding for Planned Parenthood.”
3. How would a shutdown happen?
The current federal fiscal year ends Sept. 30. Without new appropriations, federal agencies won’t have authority to spend money starting the next day, with some exceptions for services that are considered essential such as the military, law enforcement and air traffic control. Since Congress is far behind schedule in passing the series of spending bills necessary to pass a full budget, lawmakers are instead discussing a stopgap measure called a “continuing resolution” that would keep the government running after Sept. 30 and give them more time to work out a deal on a full-year plan. But some Republicans, including Sen. Cruz and all 42 members of the HFC, say they won’t even support a short-term bill unless it cuts off money for Planned Parenthood. If Congress can’t pass a short-term resolution by the end of the month, the government will shut down on Oct. 1.
This fight is shaping up into the biggest policy clash of the rest of the year — testing the power of the far-right wing of the congressional Republican conference and, once again, thrusting Planned Parenthood in the spotlight. House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell know that any budget bill that defunds Planned Parenthood would be immediately blocked by Democrats and vetoed by President Obama. They, and a handful of other Republican leaders, are trying to avoid a shutdown, primarily because they don’t want to face the consequences of starting another fight in which their party tries to take away women’s access to health care services. They also know that taxpayer funding for abortion is already illegal, which makes this a fight not over abortion, but over contraception, cancer screenings, STIs, and family planning services.
The question that remains to be answered is whether Boehner can keep enough of his conference in line to pass a bill to keep the government running, as he did a year ago, or whether he’ll lose them and oversee another government shutdown, as he did two years ago when the government closed for almost a month in a failed attempt to defund Obamacare.
4. What would the fallout be?
It’s important to remember here that not a single dollar of federal funding goes to supporting Planned Parenthood’s abortion services in the first place — that’s already prohibited under the Hyde Amendment. And despite what Republicans have recently claimed, money is not fungible at Planned Parenthood — meaning that rather than receiving a lump sum of money for all of their operations, Planned Parenthood’s medical services are billed and funded individually, leaving no room to divert any of that funding to abortion. So regardless of the outcome, the GOP’s shutdown fight will have no impact whatsoever on abortion funding.
Ironically, shutting down the government would not cut off Planned Parenthood’s federal funding, since most of it comes in the form of mandatory Medicaid reimbursements for treating low-income patients. Nor would Planned Parenthood cease operations in the event of a government shutdown.
But the real irony of this situation is that if Republicans did successfully defund Planned Parenthood, they wouldn’t just limit women’s access to preventive health care like cancer screenings, well-woman exams, and STI testing and treatment; they would also prevent millions of women from accessing contraception that prevents unintended pregnancies, 40% of which end in abortion. Take away the organization’s funding and you increase the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country, which means more, not fewer, abortions.
And while Republicans claim that funding for Planned Parenthood could be diverted to “federally approved community health centers” that do not offer abortion services (even though less than 3% of Planned Parenthood services involve the termination of pregnancies in the first place), the facts show that it would be impossible for other health clinics and providers to fill the void that would be left by defunding the nation’s single-largest provider of reproductive and sexual health care.
Of the 6.7 million women who rely on Title X programs to pay for contraceptives, 2.4 million of them — 36 percent — do so at a Planned Parenthood clinic. Moreover, half of Planned Parenthood clinics are located in rural or underserved areas, often where there are no other sexual health providers for hundreds of miles. Look no further than Texas for evidence of the devastating fallout of defunding Planned Parenthood — even though state officials claimed that other health centers would fill the space that Planned Parenthood clinics had occupied, their efforts to defund Planned Parenthood have cut in half the number of women served through the state’s family planning program.
5. Is there a way to avoid a shutdown?
Sure. Republicans can stop playing their destructive games and return to a normal political process, which involves passing spending bills without attaching unreasonable last-minute demands.
You would think they would have learned that lesson in 2013, when they shut down the government in an unsuccessful attempt to defund the Affordable Care Act. Things didn’t go well, to say the least, and the backlash against the GOP would likely be worse this time around. That’s because, outside of the right-wing echo chamber, Planned Parenthood is a highly respected and trusted organization that most Americans view positively. According to a Quinnipiac University poll released at the end of August, 69 percent of the general public, including more than half of Republican voters, are opposed to efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. Another Quinnipiac poll from August found that “a plurality of voters would blame Republicans in Congress for a government shutdown this fall.”
So just to recap: the Republican lawmakers who are threatening to shut down the government don’t have enough votes in Congress to pass a bill that would defund Planned Parenthood, and GOP leaders aren’t helping out because even they don’t like the idea. Among the American public, an overwhelming majority oppose Republican efforts to strip funding from Planned Parenthood. And even a majority of Republican voters say they don’t agree with the GOP’s plan. But instead of responding to this consensus by considering the idea of compromise, Republican lawmakers have decided that the best course of action is to force their extreme agenda onto others — even if that means making everyone suffer by shutting down the government.