GOP’s latest proposal for Planned Parenthood funding

April 8, 2011

Planned Parenthood, the group at the center of the federal budget stalemate, has long been a target of conservatives who have been eager for an opportunity to cut off the taxpayer money it gets to provide health services to low-income women.

At issue is the $80 million that Planned Parenthood receives annually from the federal government through Title X, a program that provides grants to women’s health centers. By law, the money distributed under Title X may not used for abortions.

Planned Parenthood, a 90-year-old organization, is not only the nation’s largest abortion provider but has been a key proponent of abortion rights. It has 84 affiliates in all 50 states, as well as programs abroad. Its political action committee contributes money to abortion-rights candidates; most of those candidates, predictably, are Democrats.

The money it receives from the government goes toward the family planning services it provides at its more than 800 health centers, including contraceptives, breast and cervical cancer screenings and sexually transmitted infection tests. But conservatives have been critical of that funding, arguing that it frees up money for Planned Parenthood to devote to abortions.

Republican calls for defunding the organization grew louder this year after an antiabortion activist released undercover video purporting to show improper counseling by Planned Parenthood staff. But the group’s backers say the videos were misleading, and Democrats have strongly backed the group, saying it provides critical health care for women.

The debate took center stage this week when Democrats announced they had made significant concessions on the 2011 federal budget in hopes of avoiding a government shutdown Friday night, but said that Republicans were holding things up over Planned Parenthood funding.

Republicans, however, say Democrats are causing the holdup by not accepting deeper budget cuts.

In their talks at the White House Thursday night, Republican negotiators indicated they would be willing to abandon the proposal to defund Planned Parenthood, according to senior congressional aides. But Democratic negotiators rejected their alternative, which would have givenTitle X money to the states to dole out to the health groups of their choice. Currently, Title X funding goes directly to health organizations in the form of federal grants.

Sources said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and President Obama objected to the plan because they believed it would allow Republican governors to deprive not only Planned Parenthood but other women’s health groups of their public money.

“It’s their attempt to say they’re not directly going after Planned Parenthood, but we’ve rejected it because it has the same outcome,” said a senior Democratic aide familiar with the negotiations.

Republicans say the gesture represented a good faith effort to come to an agreement over the 2011 spending plan and that Democrats are misrepresenting the debate.

“All of the Democrats’ sound and fury this morning is empty. It’s based on, at best, an unlikely theoretical scenario,” said a senior Republican aide familiar with the talks. “They are grasping at straws to distract from the fact that they just won’t get serious about cutting spending.”

by Philip Rucker and Sandhya Somashekhar

In their talks at the White House Thursday night, Republican negotiators indicated they would be willing to abandon a controversial proposal to defund Planned Parenthood that is at the heart of the budget impasse, according to senior congressional aides. But Democratic negotiators rejected the proposal, which would have shifted the money to the states, because they said it would be just as damaging to women’s health.

Currently, Title X funding is provided in the form of federal grants directly to women’s health organizations, including Planned Parenthood. Under the Republicans’ alternative proposal, federal funds would be sent to states in the form of block grants, and it would be up to state governments to distribute those funds to health groups.

Sources said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and President Obama objected to this proposal because they believed it would allow Republican governors to deprive not only Planned Parenthood but other women’s health groups public money.

“It’s their attempt to say they’re not directly going after Planned Parenthood, but we’ve rejected it because it has the same outcome,” said a senior Democratic aide familiar with the negotiations.

Republicans say the gesture represented a good faith effort to come to an agreement over the 2011 spending plan and that Democrats are misrepresenting the debate that has centered on the nation’s largest abortion provider.

“All of the Democrats’ sound and fury this morning is empty. It’s based on, at best, an unlikely theoretical scenario,” said a senior Republican aide familiar with the talks. “They are grasping at straws to distract from the fact that they just won’t get serious about cutting spending.”

Planned Parenthood has long been a target of conservatives who say the government has no business funneling millions of taxpayer dollars to clinics that perform abortions.

The nonprofit receives about $80 million a year through Title X, which provided services for about five million people last year. Planned Parenthood served one-third of those people, according to the group, which has 84 affiliates and more than 800 health centers across the country.

Signed into law by President Nixon in 1970, the Title X program provides grants to clinics that offer reproductive health services for low-income people, such as cancer screenings, testing for sexually transmitted disease, education on HIV prevention and pregnancy counseling. By law, the money provided through the program may not used for abortions.

However, conservatives say it frees up money for Planned Parenthood to provide abortion services. Their calls for defunding the organization grew louder this year after an anti-abortion activist released undercover video purporting to show abuses by Planned Parenthood staff.

The debate took center stage this week when Democrats announced that they had made significant concessions on the 2011 federal budget in hopes of avoiding a government shutdown Friday night, but said Republicans were holding up the process over Planned Parenthood funding.

Republicans, however, say the impasse is also because Democrats will not accept deeper budget cuts. And they say Democrats’ intransigence is hurting U.S. troops by holding up the spending plan.

ruckerp@washpost.com

somashekhars@washpost.com

Sandhya Somashekhar is a health reporter for the Washington Post.
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