Two years after shutting down the federal government in a failed attempt to kill the Affordable Care Act, congressional Republicans are once again using the threat of a government shutdown to wage war against public health, only this time they’ve set their sights on Planned Parenthood, one of the nation’s leading providers of low-cost health care for low-income women and families.
Apparently emboldened by a series of now-debunked undercover videos targeting Planned Parenthood, GOP lawmakers have threatened to stop at nothing in their quest to shut down the health care organization — even if that means shutting down the entire U.S. government to get what they want. The premise of this manufactured crisis is ridiculous enough — remember, we’re talking about a “scandal” that has already been disproven by virtually every credible news organization in the country, plus multiple state and federal probes — but it’s the numbers behind this budget battle that reveal the true absurdity of the GOP’s shutdown politics.
Planned Parenthood receives about $528 million dollars in public funds each year, comprising about 40 percent of its $1.3 billion annual budget (the rest of the funds come from non-government agencies and private donations). This funding comes through two channels — Medicaid reimbursements and Title X grants — and includes both state and federal funding.
Under federal law, these funds can’t be used to pay for abortions. That’s worth repeating: Not a single dollar of federal funding is used to cover the cost of abortion services (which make up less than 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services in the first place). Rather, those funds help to pay for all of the other health services that make up 97 percent of Planned Parenthood’s annual activities — services like contraception, family planning, STI testing and treatment, cancer screening, and other essential preventive health care services. And contrary to what Republicans have recently claimed, money is not fungible at Planned Parenthood — meaning that there is no way to divert any of those federal funds to abortion.
So while the GOP wants you to think of this as a battle over abortion, the reality is that their shutdown fight will have no impact whatsoever on abortion funding. This is a fight about funding for low-cost health care.
While $528 million might sound like a lot of money, “in the context of all federal spending, it is infinitesimally small,” the Washington Post points out. Indeed, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the federal government spent $3.5 trillion in fiscal year 2014. This means that funding for Planned Parenthood’s health services makes up about 1/50th of 1 percent of all federal expenditures — and, as the Post notes, “that’s rounding up generously.” That’s also not accounting for the spending that is averted thanks to Planned Parenthood’s preventive services — like the seven dollars that the government saves for every dollar it spends on family planning.
So at the end of the day, Republicans are willing to hold the entire government hostage over less than 1/50th of 1 percent of the national budget, which the Post equates to “a married couple not paying their mortgage because they can’t decide whether to go to Applebee’s for dinner one night.”
Most Americans, meanwhile, are far more concerned about the other 99.98 percent of our federal budget. According to the most recent CNN/ORC poll, an overwhelming 71 percent of Americans say it is much more important for Congress to pass a budget and avoid a shutdown than to eliminate Planned Parenthood funding. And a recent Quinnipiac poll found that “a plurality of voters would (rightly) blame Republicans in Congress for a government shutdown this fall.”
One more number to keep in mind: $24 billion. That’s the estimated cost of the 16-day-long GOP-led government shutdown in 2013, which amounts to more than 45 times the cost of funding Planned Parenthood for an entire year.