Another year, another doomed run at a government shutdown. For most of the week, the Republicans who control Congress have skirmished with themselves over whether to hold yet another budget deal hostage, disrupting lives and threatening the U.S. economy.
In 2013, party ideologues idled the federal government for 16 days, trying to cripple the Affordable Care Act. This time, the pretense has been Planned Parenthood funding. A small group of conservatives, led by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, as ever, wants to defund the women’s health group over dubious claims that the provider illegally sells fetal tissue.
Never mind that the accusation comes from pro-life activists known mainly for theatrics. Or that Planned Parenthood only gets $500 million or so a year in federal money, most of it mandated Medicaid spending.
Only about $28 million could reasonably be taken from the group by Congress, or, as President Barack Obama has put it, “20 cents out of every thousand dollars in the federal budget.” Because federally funded abortions are illegal, the main impact would be a drop in the availability of free and discounted contraception – in other words, more unwanted pregnancies among the poor and thus more abortions.
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But the point of exercises like this isn’t just to undermine one organization. It’s to impress the ideological wing of the party by staging faux confrontations with Democrats and Obama. That might raise the profile of tea partyers and of Cruz, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, but it accomplishes nothing of real value. As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other establishment Republicans have noted, Obama will veto any effort to defund women’s health, and the GOP lacks the votes to override it.
The right to an abortion has been settled law for four decades, and Americans of all parties prefer their taxpayer-funded government to be working. Even non-Obama-fan Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, has thrown up his hands, resigning on Wednesday from the House Freedom Caucus and releasing a letter denouncing the tea party group’s “counterproductive” tactics.
Part of a lawmaker’s job is to respectfully find common ground with representatives of the rest of the American public. These self-indulgent threats and stunts alienate voters and reduce democracy to a contest of arcane parliamentary tactics. Enough beating on the Planned Parenthood piñata, and enough with the theatrics. Congress should fund the government and focus on people’s business.