The budget impass

In fast-paced, heavy-news days like we’ve had lately, reading editorials in respected newspapers helps me clarify my thinking.  Today’s New York Times’ editorial on the federal budget impasse, “It’s Not Really About the Spending,” really helped:

If the federal government shuts down at midnight on Friday — which seems likely unless negotiations take a sudden turn toward rationality — it will not be because of disagreements over spending. It will be because Republicans are refusing to budge on these ideological demands:

  • No federal financing for Planned Parenthood because it performs abortions. Instead, state administration of federal family planning funds, which means that Republican governors and legislatures will not spend them.
  • No local financing for abortion services in the District of Columbia.
  • No foreign aid to countries that might use the money for abortion or family planning. And no aid to the United Nations Population Fund, which supports family-planning services.
  • No regulation of greenhouse gases by the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • No funds for health care reform or the new consumer protection bureau established in the wake of the financial collapse.

Abortion. Environmental protection. Health care. Nothing to do with jobs or the economy; instead, all the hoary greatest hits of the Republican Party, only this time it has the power to wreak national havoc: furloughing 800,000 federal workers, suspending paychecks for soldiers and punishing millions of Americans who will have to wait for tax refunds, Social Security applications, small-business loans, and even most city services in Washington. The damage to a brittle economy will be substantial.

Today’s Washington Post had a good article explaining how the federal funding of Planned Parenthood figures into all this (“GOP’s latest proposal for Planned Parenthood funding“)  Here’s an excerpt:

In their talks at the White House Thursday night, Republican negotiators indicated they would be willing to abandon a controversial proposal to defund Planned Parenthood that is at the heart of the budget impasse, according to senior congressional aides. But Democratic negotiators rejected the proposal, which would have shifted the money to the states, because they said it would be just as damaging to women’s health.

Currently, Title X funding is provided in the form of federal grants directly to women’s health organizations, including Planned Parenthood. Under the Republicans’ alternative proposal, federal funds would be sent to states in the form of block grants, and it would be up to state governments to distribute those funds to health groups.

Sources said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and President Obama objected to this proposal because they believed it would allow Republican governors to deprive not only Planned Parenthood but other women’s health groups public money. …

Republicans say the gesture represented a good faith effort to come to an agreement over the 2011 spending plan and that Democrats are misrepresenting the debate that has centered on the nation’s largest abortion provider. …

Planned Parenthood has long been a target of conservatives who say the government has no business funneling millions of taxpayer dollars to clinics that perform abortions.

The nonprofit receives about $80 million a year through Title X, which provided services for about five million people last year. Planned Parenthood served one-third of those people, according to the group, which has 84 affiliates and more than 800 health centers across the country.

This additional insight is helpful, but I can’t help but ask two questions —

  1. If it’s up to the state legislatures to decide what to do with the money that would have gone to Planned Parenthood, do you think that money would provide the same terrific services that Planned Parenthood does? (Of course not.)
  2. Is this hold-up of the budget, and threat to shut down the government, really over just $80 million????  (Unbelievable!!)
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