On the Hill: Government May Shut Down over “Abortion Funding”

It’s almost September, which means that members of Congress are finally coming back to DC after a month’s recess spent meeting with constituents back home and fundraising for the next series of elections. The legislature’s return is none too soon, as there are a large number of important issues to resolve, and time is extremely limited.

Some of the issues on Congress’s plate include the deal with Iran, reauthorization of the Export-Import bank, and funding the federal government. This last item is no easy fix, as Republicans have shut down the government time and time again as part of their strategy to defund programs and policies they oppose. Unfortunately for the GOP, they’ve yet to succeed in this legislative game of “chicken,” with the policies they oppose—such as Obamacare and executive orders supporting immigration reform—having largely survived. In fact, the only real impact of these past shutdowns has been brief closings of national parks, temporary but inconvenient slowing of federal services, and political blowback from an electorate upset that conservative politicians would play games with something as important as funding the government.

And yet, it seems extremist conservatives just can’t get enough. Politicians like Senator Ted Cruz are determined to tie government funding to amendments and bills that seek to defund Planned Parenthood. Cruz went as far as to organize over a thousand pastors in opposition to funding Planned Parenthood, which receives roughly $500 million dollars in annual federal funding in order to provide a variety of services from STD screenings to healthcare for low-income families, and of course abortions to those who want them.

But Cruz isn’t the only politician attacking Planned Parenthood. Former Florida Governor and current presidential candidate Jeb Bush was recently quoted at a town hall meeting as saying, “I, for one, don’t think Planned Parenthood ought to get a penny, though. And that’s the difference because they’re not actually doing women’s health issues. They’re involved in something way different than that.” Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee echoed these sentiments, stating “There’s nothing that they do, which is very little for women’s health, that couldn’t be done by better and more responsible providers rather than these butchers who are out there justifying and defending the slaughter of children and the selling of their parts. It’s time for us to get honest.”

So what’s next? It’s very likely that Cruz and his allies could succeed in shutting down the federal government for a few days. That being said, moderate Republicans in Congress are unlikely to bend to the extremists in their own party, and President Obama will certainly veto any funding bills that seek to gut Planned Parenthood. That means that yet again the federal government could be shut down for no practical reason whatsoever, and that the religious right will get nothing but backlash from the voting public for jeopardizing the services impacted by the shutdown. To foreign observers, another shutdown will appear to be pointless, confusing, and harmful to the US public. To American observers, it’s just business as usual.