Once again, our leaders in Washington are on the brink of shutting the government down over fierce disagreements.
While these battles have never really reflected well on Washington, this year the sticking point is over whether or not to continue providing federal funding to Planned Parenthood. The organization came under fire this summer after videos surfaced showing Planned Parenthood staffers discussing the mechanics of fetal tissue and organ donation.
The group receives about $528 million dollars in public funds each year, according to its own records and IRS statements. By statute, these funds can't be used to provide abortions. Instead, they're directed to all the other services which comprise the majority -- 97 percent -- of Planned Parenthood's activities: STD testing, contraception, cancer screening, and other women's health services.
Yes, $528 million is a big chunk of money. But in the context of all federal spending, it is infinitesimally small. In fiscal year 2014, the federal government spent $3.5 trillion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. So Planned Parenthood spending makes up roughly 1/50th of 1 percent of all federal expenditures -- and that's rounding up generously.
Congress, in essence, may be willing to shut the entire government down because it can't agree on how to spend 1/50th of 1 percent of its budget. That's akin to a married couple not paying their mortgage because they can't decide whether to go to Applebee's for dinner one night.
Most Americans get this. A recent CNN/ORC poll found that 71 percent of Americans said it was more important for Congress to approve a budget and avoid a shutdown than to eliminate Planned Parenthood funding.
Meanwhile, a plurality of Americans have a favorable view of Planned Parenthood. So Congressional Republicans risk being at odds with most American voters on this issue. So while no doubt that American attitudes toward abortion in general are complex, they generally agree the issue is not worth shutting down the government over.