by Grady Brown
A potential government shutdown is upon us once again. The federal government’s fiscal year ends September 30 and, pending a temporary budget bill, the government may well shut down for the second time in three years on October 1. It’s a familiar story — one that is emblematic of the gridlock in DC — and it’s an issue at the forefront of debate for the Congressmen returning from summer recess.
So will we see a shutdown or another last second deal? It’s difficult to tell, but any prediction will need to consider one of the core issues that seems to be driving the disagreement: Planned Parenthood. This summer, anti-abortion activists released a number of undercover videos, claiming Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissue.
It’s unclear whether Planner Parenthood violated the law. The National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act of 1993 makes it illegal to sell fetal tissue, but allows organizations to collect a “reasonable” fee to mitigate the costs of donating the tissue. Nevertheless, the videos initiated a political firestorm from social conservatives, which has only added to the mounting polarization over the nation’s budget.
Planned Parenthood receives nearly $530 million from the federal government each year. Social conservatives and tea party members are demanding that Congress eliminate this funding in any proposed budget. However, public opinion is not in their favor. A new Monmouth poll found that 49 percent of respondents oppose defunding Planned Parenthood, compared to 39 percent that support defunding the organization. But the poll also makes clear that the issue is polarizing. A full 66 percent of Republicans support defunding Planned Parenthood, while 68 percent of Democrats oppose defunding Planned Parenthood.
So will either side back down during the newest iteration of the budget battle? There seems to be three scenarios in which Congress could solve the Planned Parenthood issue and move forward with a bipartisan budget bill. Social conservatives could concede on defunding Planned Parenthood, Democrats could stop blocking bills that defund Planned Parenthood, or Republicans could seek alternative legislation that kicks the “Planned Parenthood can” down the road. All three options seem unlikely to happen.
Social conservatives in Congress, led by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), don’t appear to be backing down. The social conservative vote could be vital in the 2016 elections, meaning no matter the outcome, making a big fuss over the Planned Parenthood issue could help these politicians stay in office. A May Gallup poll found that 31 percent of Americans identify as social conservatives. Republicans up for reelection and GOP presidential candidates must concern themselves with capturing those votes and will have a strong incentive to only support budget legislation that defunds Planned Parenthood.
At the same time, Democrats appear to have no interest in supporting a budget without Planned Parenthood funding. In an interview with CNN, Harry Reid was adamant that Democrats would not allow Planned Parenthood to be defunded. Without a supermajority, Republicans can’t push through a budget bill without support from the Democrats.
The Planned Parenthood showdown is also a growing nightmare for GOP leadership. The battle within the GOP is giving Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) a headache, as he’s desperate to avoid a government shutdown that would highlight the growing turmoil in the GOP, but also trying to appease members of his caucus who are looking to oust him. Leaders within the GOP are seeking antiabortion legislation outside the budget.
On Thursday, the House passed legislation aimed at directing funds away from Planned Parenthood. The bill, crafted by Representative Diane Black (R-TN), would fund Planned Parenthood contingent on the organization agreeing to stop providing abortions. It is unlikely Representative Black’s bill will become law, but Republicans could seek similar bills that continue investigative procedures or curb funding for Planned Parenthood. This may temporarily satisfy social conservatives, but it would still be difficult to pick up support from Democrats.
Time is quickly ticking down and Planned Parenthood is acting as a significant roadblock to passing a new budget. With both sides entrenched on this issue, there’s a good chance that Congress will fail to pass a budget bill and, as a result, the Government will likely shutdown, albeit for a short while.