Why not just decline to fund it in next year's budget?
Filibuster kills Planned Parenthood de-funding bill, but here’s a question
Comments | Print friendly | Subscribe | Email Us
You’ve heard by now that Democrats held together in a filibuster against the Senate bill that would have defunded Planned Parenthood. Only two Democrats - Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana - voted for cloture. Only two Republicans voted against it, and Illinois’s Mark Kirk was the only one who was really in opposition. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as much as we are not a fan of his, did so only for procedural purposes so he would have the right to bring it up again in the future.
So as much as many of us had hoped the horrific videos put out recently by the Center for Medical Progress might bring more Democrats into the de-funding fold, it seems clear in retrospect that this was always a long shot. Democrats are wed to Planned Parenthood more firmly than many of them probably are to their own spouses, and they’re not going to let a little thing like baby body part trafficking get in the way of the gravy train.
I would like to ask a question, though: Why do you need to pass a bill to not fund something? Shouldn’t the opportunity for any organization to receive federal funds require an affirmative vote of the Congress? As it stands now, Planned Parenthood funding is presumed to be in the budget forever absent an expressly specific vote that bans it. Why should this be? Why, in an era when Republicans control both houses of Congress, should something so anathema to the thinking of Republicans be guaranteed ongoing funding absent an extraordinary effort to de-fund it?
In theory, at least, it isn’t. The Republican majority could pass a budget next year that zeroes out Planned Parenthood’s funding. And because budgets are not subject to the filibuster, there are not enough Democrats in the Senate to do anything about it. All the Republicans would have to do is hold firm and refuse to send any budget bill to President Obama that includes a dime for Planned Parenthood, and whammo, Planned Parenthood is de-funded.
Now, let’s be clear-eyed about the political machinations that have changed the nature of budgeting and made this harder to achieve than I just made it sound.
We’ll start with the fact that it’s still a battle just to pass a real budget. Democrats stopped even trying to pass real budgets in 2010 because they wanted to hide the fact that the $862 billion “emergency stimulus” of 2009 was going to become part of the permanent budget baseline. And it worked. The media didn’t think it was a story that Congress no longer passed real budgets, nor did they think it was a story that this “one-time” spending blowout wasn’t one time at all. It was every time, forever, because that’s how the federal government does things. Especially when Democrats are in charge.
When Republicans re-took the Senate in 2014, having already taken the House back in 2010, they vowed to return to real budgets. But we’ve hardly seen a return to what we understand as a real budget process, in which Congress submits a budget to the president, they haggle over details and they ultimately negotiate an agreement and pass something. It’s still basically a matter of Obama getting everything he wants or walking away from the table, in which case spending authority lapses, the government “shuts down” (not really) and everyone blames Republicans.
That would happen in this case too. Any budget bill passed by Republicans that includes one cent less than Obama wants for anything at all would be portrayed by the media as “Republicans risk government shutdown over Planned Parenthood”. That doesn’t mean they couldn’t hold firm. They could. It’s just that they’d have to wage a real battle for the public’s support to overcome the rhetoric that would spew forth from Democrats and their media adjuncts. And Republicans almost never have the stomach for such battles.
The other problem has to do with the way budgets are worded. Spending authority is typically authorized for things like “women’s health services” and then the Department of Health and Human Services spends the money where it sees fit. A budget that zeroes out Planned Parenthood funding would have to expressly say that none of the money allocated for women’s health services can go to Planned Parenthood. You’d have to take away that much of HHS’s discretion through very specific wording in the budget bill. That would surely invite an Obama veto of the budget, and Republicans would have to decide if it’s worth fighting for.
Granted, that’s a hard fight to win when the president doesn’t in any way fear what’s staged as a “government shutdown.” Every time this happens, he manipulates its execution to garner sympathy for his position, then sits back and watches as Republicans take the heat and he takes none. To the extent that a “shutdown” really does hurt anyone, Obama cares not at all. He only cares that he wins the news cycle whenever it happens.
But even having said all this, the only reason the political dynamic of budgeting has gotten to this point is that Republicans have been so ineffective at the politics. Constitutionally, there is no reason a president being told no by Congress means the government shuts down. It only happens this way in practice because Obama is a petulant bore who takes his ball and goes home if he doesn’t get his way, and Republicans have no idea what to do when that happens.
If Congress functioned as it should, nothing Republicans oppose could get a dime of funding, and Obama would have to accept that his party lost the mid-term elections and as such he doesn’t get to govern the way he did in 2009-2010. And if things worked that way, Planned Parenthood would have no hope of being included in next year’s budget. No filibuster could change that. And a presidential veto could not automatically fund Planned Parenthood. It could only stop the passage of the entire budget that left Planned Parenthood out, meaning nothing gets funded at all.
But we’ve strayed so far from the way the federal government is supposed to work that a monstrous organization that murders children and sells their body parts on the open market gets funding automatically, and even a majority of both houses that wants to put a stop to this can’t do it. And until we find some Republicans who are willing to stand up and say no more of this - and they are actually put in a position to make that mean something - this will continue in perpetuity.