This article originally appeared in Politico and on Politico.com on March 9, 2011.
No Planned Parenthood showdown?
By Sarah Kliff
Republican leadership and commentators are cooling to social conservatives’ mounting cries to make defunding Planned Parenthood a nonnegotiable item in budget talks, challenging the provision as both bad politics and bad policy.
“This is shortsighted political posturing,” former John McCain adviser Mark McKinnon wrote in a March 4 column for the Daily Beast. “It’s overreaching, and it’s why Republicans get a bad name with many independent voters and women. … Republicans would be well advised to keep their focus on real economic issues that have impact, like entitlement reform.”
Republican leadership also appears unenthusiastic at the idea of shutting down the government over the Planned Parenthood issue. In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody last week, House Speaker John Boehner explained his party’s decision to pass a two-week stopgap budget measure, which funds Planned Parenthood.
“There will be an opportunity some time in order to win the big war, and we’re looking for that opportunity,” he said. “I don’t think this short-term CR is the opportunity that will get us there.”
Support for Planned Parenthood is coming from unusual quarters.
“On this issue, Republicans and conservatives are dead wrong,” Dick Scaife, a prominent Republican donor, wrote in a Feb. 27 Pittsburgh Tribune-Review op-ed. “Abortions are a minor aspect of Planned Parenthood’s mission to provide reproductive health care, education and other services to Americans, regardless of income.”
Still, the continuing resolution amendment to defund Planned Parenthood, introduced by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) is backed by most Republicans. And it has attracted the endorsement of a prominent fiscal conservative: Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist.
“Mike Pence’s battle is not just another social-issue skirmish. It’s a test of economic and budgetary seriousness,” he wrote in a National Review op-ed on Monday, co-authored with Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser. “Planned Parenthood must be privatized. Economic and social conservatives agree — this one is nonnegotiable.”
But with Senate negotiations starting and the specter of a shutdown looming when the two-week fix runs out on March 18, Republican leadership appears unwilling to take a stance on whether defunding Planned Parenthood is “nonnegotiable” — as anti-abortion leaders asked in a letter last month — or could be bypassed in the budget process.
“The House vote on the Pence amendment is nothing more than symbolic unless it remains intact through the legislative process,” a Feb. 24 letter from 26 anti-abortion leaders said. “Defunding Planned Parenthood must be a nonnegotiable in the continuing resolution, and we urge you to accept nothing less than this outcome.”
When asked whether Republican leadership would commit to making the defunding nonnegotiable, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said he was unfamiliar with the letter and that Republican leadership stood by H.R. 1.
“Our position is H.R. 1,” Steel told POLITICO. “Given that the Senate failed to do its job and take up H.R. 1, we passed a two-week CR.”
When CNSNews, a conservative wire service, pressed House Majority Leader Eric Cantor on the issue, his office said it would not rule out the funding, noting it would depend on where the Senate falls on the issue.
“The House has already made it very clear that we do not support tax dollars going to Planned Parenthood funding, and the Pence amendment to accomplish this limitation was approved with bipartisan support in the seven-month CR,” Cantor spokeswoman Laena Fallon told CNSNews.com. “As Eric said, we now need to see where the Senate stands on this and other big issues.”
For social conservatives, it’s a marked shift from late January, when Boehner was calling anti-abortion issues “one of the highest legislative priorities” in his first news conference of the 112th Congress.
Anti-abortion advocates have, however, charged forward, noting that this is the furthest attempts to defund Planned Parenthood have gone.
Pence spent Monday night on a conference call with the anti-abortion group Expose Planned Parenthood, rallying activists and calling on the Senate to pass his legislation.
“We have never been closer to defunding Planned Parenthood since 1973,” Pence said Monday. “It’s passed the House of Representatives, and if we can prevail upon our colleagues in the Senate to pass legislation that seizes on this moment in history, we can end all public funding for Planned Parenthood once and for all.”
He was followed by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who urged supporters not to give up if initial Senate legislation does not reflect their position on the issue.
“There’s also the opportunity, I think, where potentially we could insist upon this language in any other negotiations we’re in with the Senate,” Jordan said. “The House can insist upon our position, insist this language be in the CR that ultimately gets signed — may have to be in a fight next week on some language, where you iron out what they do in the Senate. It’s time to insist upon this Planned Parenthood language being in whatever the final product is going to be.”