Yesterday, news broke that the GOP-controlled Congress, rather than waste their time trying to keep Title X family-planning funds from going to Planned Parenthood, will go ahead and just eliminate family-planning funding across the board. In a draft of a continuing resolution to fund the government for the rest of fiscal year 2011, the House Appropriations Committee will suggest today cutting all money to Title X, which provides basic preventative care and education to millions of women in over 4,000 of clinics across the country.
First, this is really bad policy. They may save $327 million today, but taxpayers will lose much more than that in the long run because every dollar put into family-planning saves the country about $4 in expenses down the road (treating cancer that went undetected or medical care for a pregnancy that never would have happened are way more expensive than a breast exam and a condom). At the very least, this is what the government should do: Shore up the inequality in our society by making sure everyone receives basic care.
Mother Jones’ Nick Baumann sees this as an attack on Planned Parenthood and abortion coverage in general. I think that’s accurate, but it’s not the whole story. There’s a difference between Mike Pence’s bill to stop Title X funding going to Planned Parenthood and eliminating Title X altogether. It's not a substantive difference, though; it's rhetorical. Pence defended his plan to defund Planned Parenthood by repeating how much he likes cancer screenings but hates abortions. As of today, Republicans have little interest in toeing that line. It’s probably a more honest take anyway: We don’t want the government to provide any care to poor women. They won’t frame it quite like that, but if the Republican Party actually wanted to provide preventative care for women, this wouldn’t be on the table.
The politics of this are pretty interesting. On the one hand, providing preventative care has enormous support in opinion polling, like this poll showing 86 percent of voters support Title X. Title X is also essential to the growing new base of the Democratic Party, unmarried women, young Americans, and minorities. An attack on family planning on poor women would not affect nearly the number of Republican voters as it would Democratic voters. If Democrats fight Republicans on family planning, Republicans can probably score points with their base by tying in the abortion issue. If Democrats don't put up a fight, then it's a double win for Republicans: Not only do they no longer have to help poor women, they also benefit from Democrats having alienated a large number of their base supporters.
I also think this is a trap, so that Democrats will bargain away family-planning funding to Planned Parenthood in an effort to save Title X. So rather than get Pence's bill through the Senate, a pretty impossible task, they distract Democrats by threatening to throw all poor women under the bus. It's a good strategy; Democrats will be so grateful to keep Title X, they'll be happy to cut off the millions of women who get basic care at Planned Parenthood every year.
As fellow TAPPED blogger Jamelle Bouie discussed yesterday, Democrats take the pro-choice vote for granted but give them little in return. For decades, they have decided to compromise and back down rather than fight back. It's not a history that inspires confidence that Democrats will stand up for women's health today. The effort itself speaks to just how far Democrats are willing to go to compromise on women's health, and Republicans sense it. From Republicans' perspective, it’s worth a try. They may come across as monsters today, but if they are successful, the democrats and Obama will go down as monsters in the end.