The government shutdown over Planned Parenthood didn't come to fruition this time, but that doesn't mean the debate is over. Not hardly.
Abortion is back at the center of American politics, and even though it looks like lawmakers will avert a shutdown over the issue on Wednesday, the drama is not likely to go away anytime soon. In fact, if a hearing Tuesday in the House is any indication, it's very possible Republican leaders simply postponed a shutdown showdown over abortion by a couple months.
Here's the latest:
Despite about 30 conservative lawmakers' objections, a majority of the Republicans in the GOP-led House are expected to join with Democrats to pass a short-term bill funding the government -- including Planned Parenthood -- by Wednesday.
The move would avert a shutdown over the nonprofit women's health care clinic, which is under fire after an antiabortion group released secretly taped videos this summer showing Planned Parenthood officials talking casually about what to do with aborted fetal tissue. (Planned Parenthood officials have apologized for their tone, but they denied that they discussed illegally selling fetal tissue for profit, as the videos imply.)
The budget detente gives lawmakers two months to come up with a plan to avoid the exact same situation by the next deadline Congress has set for itself to pass a long-term spending bill, Dec. 11.
But it's more likely than not that, come Dec. 11, Planned Parenthood will still very much be a sticking point.
That's because unlike other political dramas that fade after a vote or two in Congress or a major news event, the Planned Parenthood storm has proved that it has the potential to gather oxygen and suck in everything around it -- including a top lawmaker's career and this winter's debate to fund the government.
Here's a step-by-step look at how the Planned Parenthood debate could conceivably shut down the government this time around:
Republicans keep Planned Parenthood front and center this fall ...
... by holding as many hearings as possible on the topic. House Republicans already conducted a high-profile, highly contentious hearing Tuesday with the embattled organization's president, Cecile Richards, sitting at the witness table.
The hearing's premise was to investigate how the organization uses some $528 million in annual government funds (which cannot be used for abortion in most cases). But it also served as a golden opportunity for Republicans to air their grievances about the videos directly to the source of their ire.
Republicans plan to hold at least three more hearings with Richards and other Planned Parenthood officials, which, if spaced out, could keep the momentum for their base-approved, passion-inducing cause going all the way to the next budget debate.
Antiabortion advocates demand another shot ...
… at defunding Planned Parenthood, even though a spending bill sans cash for Planned Parenthood will surely be vetoed by President Obama.
One reason: The spending bill that lawmakers are expected to debate come December could last for a year, giving many Republicans (including the four senators running for president) one of their last major opportunities to prove their antiabortion chops before Election Day.
What's more, the group of about 30 House conservatives who have been insisting on defunding Planned Parenthood will probably be emboldened to stick with its plan. That's because on Friday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced he would be stepping down at the end of October. Conservatives had threatened to try to forcefully oust him if he didn't go along with their plan.
Antiabortion advocates can count Boehner's resignation as a victory, but it remains to be seen how his replacement will handle conservative lawmakers. The group could certainly make a substantiated threat to oust the new speaker as well -- and will perhaps be keen on setting the tone for his or her speakership from Day One using the shutdown debate. The idea that these lawmakers will simply allow the new speaker to do what they didn't want Boehner to do simply doesn't hold water.
Democrats hold their line. Again.
Emboldened by a victory of their own to avoid a shutdown this week, Democrats in Congress and the White House could collectively decide that, yes, Planned Parenthood is worth fighting for once again. The organization provides crucial health-care services for women across the country, and federal funds are already banned from going to abortions in most cases, they note.
"It is our obligation to protect our wives, our sisters, our daughters and our granddaughters from the absurd policies of a Republican Party that has lost its moral compass," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on the Senate floor in August before a vote to defund Planned Parenthood failed in the Senate.
Senate Democratic leaders declare again they will block any bill that defunds Planned Parenthood, even if that bill funds the government. They calculate that voters will blame Republicans for the shutdown, as polls show they did after the government shutdown over Obamacare two years ago and as polls suggest would again be the case.
During the Obamacare debate, Republicans had a plurality of voters supporting their bid to defund the law. This time, 55 percent of Americans say Planned Parenthood should receive some federal funding, while 36 percent say it should not, according to a CBS News-New York Times poll.
The Dec. 11 deadline to pass a bill to fund the government comes and goes ...
... without a spending bill signed. Instead, the spending bill has been dragged into the emotional and seemingly intractable abortion debate -- a debate that for decades has consumed both sides with equal passion and little movement and for the past several months has consumed much of America. The government shuts down.
We're not sure. If the government shuts down, both sides have incentives to dig in their heels and wait it out to get what they want. Or perhaps a few days of a shutdown is all Republicans need to make their point to their base.
There are more unknowns than knowns at this point, and anything can happen. Few thought September's Planned Parenthood drama would essentially end Boehner's career, for example.
It's difficult to predict what December's budget showdown could bring, but it's totally reasonable to think Planned Parenthood will again be at the center of it.