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Shutdown Won’t Defund Planned Parenthood

October 5, 2015
Weekly Columns

The release of a series of videos that have exposed the despicable backroom practices at Planned Parenthood and which documented disturbing conversations with some of its employees have caused Americans to question the federal funding the organization receives. Without question, I share the same disgust of the utter disregard for unborn human life demonstrated by the organization’s sale of aborted body parts in the videos. Like many others across the nation, I certainly do not believe that taxpayers should foot the bill for any of Planned Parenthood’s expenses. However, given the political reality in which we live, the system by which our government operates and the process by which Planned Parenthood receives its federal funding, that goal is much easier said than done. 

In the midst of the Planned Parenthood scandal, lawmakers were confronted with a different crisis last week. With funding for the government’s operations across all agencies set to expire on September 30th, I was relieved that Congress acted responsibly and passed a short-term bill in both chambers to keep the government open. Signed into law by the president, the funding measure lasts through December 11th and prevents a painful government shutdown. While I was disappointed that we were forced to rely on another short-term resolution, it is more important that Congress avoided the serious consequences a government shutdown would have on our economy, troops and veterans, national security and numerous other government-funded organizations and employees. 

Despite many claims to the contrary and as I explained during a recent interview on Fox News Sunday, there is no federal funding for Planned Parenthood included in the short-term funding measure enacted last week. But to understand why, it requires knowing how the federal budget and appropriations process works. 

Federal spending falls into three general categories: discretionary, mandatory and interest on the debt. During the annual budget and appropriations process, lawmakers set the discretionary side of spending by writing a budget and then passing appropriations bills to fund various areas of government. Mandatory spending is made up of entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid that are not subject to the appropriations process and are effectively “automatic” payments. While discretionary spending is considered on an annual basis, mandatory spending is essentially on autopilot unless and until lawmakers decide to reform how entitlements are distributed. 

Planned Parenthood’s largest portion of federal funding—approximately 90 percent—comes from Medicaid reimbursements, which is mandatory or entitlement spending. That means it is not subject to the annual appropriations process and, therefore, not addressed in the short-term discretionary spending bill passed last week. 

The other 10 percent of Planned Parenthood’s federal money comes primarily from the Title X Family Planning Program in the form of grants. However, all of the Title X grants for 2015 have been awarded and no others can be given out until April of next year, long past the length of the short-term funding measure passed last week. As PolitiFact – an independent organization that verifies the truthfulness of claims made by politicians and campaigns – confirmed, “Cole is correct that the short-term funding bill that Congress is slated to pass does not itself fund Planned Parenthood—largely because this bill addresses discretionary spending, while the vast majority of Planned Parenthood’s federal funding comes from mandatory spending through the Medicaid program.”

Furthermore, as I’ve said on numerous occasions, shutting down the government is always a mistake. Doing so over Planned Parenthood is an already-lost battle with President Obama, who will never agree to legislation that defunds the organization. While I am deeply saddened by the appalling evidence against the organization, I understand the political reality of what is achievable, given the president’s ideology and his ability to push it on the American people through his veto power. 

State Chairman of Oklahomans for Life Tony Lauinger recently agreed that cutting off Planned Parenthood takes steadfast commitment to change executive leadership. As he explained, “Sadly, there are no shortcuts to stopping the funding of the organization for these barbaric acts of inhumanity. The pro-abortion ideologue in the White House would make sure Planned Parenthood got taxpayer funding, regardless.” He continued, “A government shutdown is not only utterly futile, it is also counterproductive. It would shift the focus – from Planned Parenthood’s despicable acts, to our fellow citizens adversely affected by the shutdown.”

The Planned Parenthood issue cannot be swept under the rug and forgotten, and it certainly will not be. Through ongoing committee investigations, lawmakers will continue to shed light on the apparent wrongdoing that is taking place at the organization. But ultimately, real strides will require change in executive leadership at the White House. In order to do that, we must focus our efforts on electing a pro-life president. As Lauinger assessed, “We must win the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens, work through the system of government our founders gave us and elect a president who respects human life and will sign pro-life laws.” I couldn’t agree more.