- BEST OF THE WEB TODAY
- APRIL 11, 2011
On Friday, the federal government almost shut down over abortion, more than 38 years after Roe v. Wade was supposed to have settled the question. Politico reports on the Thursday-night negotiations over funding the government for the remainder of fiscal 2011:
The low point may have come Thursday night.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had spent more than an hour meeting with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, inching toward a deal to avert a shutdown, but he kept insisting that it include a prohibition against federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
That was a nonstarter for Obama. As the meeting was breaking up, Vice President Joe Biden told the speaker, in no uncertain terms, that his demand was unacceptable. If that became the deal breaker, Biden said, he would “take it to the American people,” who would presumably punish the GOP for shutting down the government over an ideological issue.
“They were faced with a choice–they would either have to give in or shut down the government,” said a senior administration official, describing how the negotiations went from there.
A Bloomberg account has Obama telling Boehner during the same meeting: “Nope, zero. John, this is it.” And that was it. The Republicans did well in the negotiation overall: “Boehner agreed to a package of $38.5 billion in cuts, a significant victory for a man who said his goal was to extract as much as possible from the federal budget,” Bloomberg reports. But they yielded on the question of subsidizing Planned Parenthood, America’s biggest abortion provider. (How big? Timothy Carney of the Washington Examiner reports that “it performed 332,278 abortions in 2009, while serving 7,021 prenatal clients and referring 977 parents to adoption services.”)
A news story in Saturday’s New York Times begins by observing that “the emergence of abortion as the last and most contentious of the issues” in the budget dispute “highlighted the enduring influence of social conservatives within the Republican Party.” It seems to us that this gets it backward.
The Times, of course, views “social conservatives” as deviants and their opponents as normal–note how they’re seldom even termed “social liberals.” But if you look at the question from a more neutral point of view, there’s no escaping the conclusion that Democrats are more dogmatically pro-abortion than Republicans are antiabortion. It was the Democrats, not the Republicans, who were willing to shut down the government over subsidies to Planned Parenthood.
Why? No doubt there is an element of cynical posturing (and that’s true on both sides). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, for instance, said in a statement Friday: “The Tea Party is trying to sneak through its extreme social agenda. . . . They are willing to throw women under the bus, even if it means they’ll shut down the government.” Reid used to be against abortion; in 1999 he was one of only two Senate Democrats to oppose a nonbinding resolution saying rah-rah to Roe v. Wade. It’s always possible that his conscience led him to the politically expedient position, but we’re more inclined to think expediency is its own explanation.
There’s also a financial angle. Planned Parenthood receives millions in taxpayer subsidies and spends hundreds of thousands on lobbying and campaigning. In February, OpenSecrets.org reported that Planned Parenthood’s political action committee “donated more than $148,000 to federal candidates–almost all Democrats–during the 2010 election cycle” and “spent more than $443,000 overall.” Planned Parenthood made an additional $905,796 in “independent expenditures” during the 2010 cycle–exercising its right to free speech pursuant to last year’s Citizens United decision.
The biggest beneficiaries of Planned Parenthood money, according to OpenSecrets.org, were Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Barbara Boxer of California. According to the Hill, both were also among “a defiant group of Senate women,” all Democrats, who “said Friday they’ll oppose any spending bill that would affect reproductive health funding”:
“We are not going to throw women under the bus to give them an agreement to keep this government open,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said during a press conference at the Capitol.
“We are determined to draw the line in the sand,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) added. “There are moments when you must do that, and this is one of those moments.”
Yet in contrast with Reid, Murray’s and Boxer’s sincerity seems beyond question. They’re not in it for the money; Planned Parenthood gives them money because it knows they are true believers.
In some ways the dispute over Planned Parenthood funding is symbolic. The legal right to abortion is not at stake, and the subsidy doesn’t even pay directly for abortion, which the group is required to fund from nonfederal revenue. So why is it the Democratic Party’s No. 1 priority?
Our best answer is identity politics. As we observed in January, for many liberal women, their sexual identity is bound up in their politics, and especially in the politics of abortion. Just about anyone who lives in a big American city has the experience of being told by a woman, probably a youngish college-educated woman, that she would never vote Republican because the GOP is against abortion.
There are single-issue antiabortion voters as well, and our guess is that they are more numerous nationwide. Republicans have on the whole done better than Democrats in federal elections since 1980, when the parties first became polarized around abortion; and the Roe effect ought to give them a demographic boost.
But single-issue pro-abortion voters are still a crucial component of the Democratic electoral base. As National Journal reported last week, President Obama is “struggling with every other segment of the white electorate, including younger voters,” with the exception of “well-educated white women.”
His willingness to shut down the government rather than cut funding to Planned Parenthood is a strong show of support to this bloc of voters. How it will go over with the rest of the electorate is another question.