In the end, the Republicans’ threat to close down the federal government was all about abortion.
The Democrats reluctantly agreed to the Republicans’ demand for substantial midyear cuts of about $38 billion to the 2011 federal budget to prevent a shutdown of the government. The deal almost died, however, because the Republicans insisted on eliminating a critical family planning program. It was over this issue—and opposition to a huge cut in environmental protection funding—where Democrats and the president found their nerve, drew a line in the sand, and, ultimately, prevailed.
Because the fight has shifted so quickly to the bigger one over the 2012 budget, the shame of the Republicans’ attacks has not received the attention it deserves. Take family planning:
The Republicans proposed to eliminate about $335 million in Title X funding. This program, signed into law by President Nixon in 1970 and strengthened by the first President Bush, is the only federal grant program dedicated solely to providing individuals—primarily women—with comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services with priority given to those in low-income families.
Planned Parenthood gets about 25% of Title X funding, although none of it goes to providing abortions since such use is barred by federal law. In fact, about 97% of the services provided by Planned Parenthood has nothing to do with abortion but covers such basic health care as mammograms and contraceptive services.
But those who want to kill Title X funding have been obsessed with Planned Parenthood’s unwavering protection of that small minority of their clients who use their clinics for legal abortion. They have refused to admit that denying Planned Parenthood money for contraceptive services would inevitably drive up the number of unwanted pregnancies and lead to more abortions. Or, more likely, they simply don’t care.
The Republicans have now moved on to a new crusade: destroying Medicare and further reducing taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Their plan, championed by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, would scuttle Medicare by turning it into a voucher program. While those over 55 would be grandfathered into the current system, they would be given vouchers to buy private insurance when they reach 65. If the vouchers do not cover their health care costs, “tough luck,” as the President recently put it. At the same time, Ryan would reduce the top marginal tax rate of 36% (already lowered from 39% by the Bush tax cuts) to 25%.
The NY Times described the Republicans’ 2012 budget this way: “If it was not clear before, it is now obvious that the party is fully engaged in a project to dismantle the foundations of the New Deal and the Great Society, and to liberate business and the rich from the inconveniences of oversight and taxes.” See nytimes.com/2011/04/18/opinion/18mon1.html?_r=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss
The question now is whether the Democrats— weak in communicating the callousness of the Republicans’ attack on the Affordable Care Act—will be able to clearly explain the Republicans’ latest and more odious assault on American values.
You can reach Thom Kleiner at (845) 499-4366 or by e-mail at email@example.com