Unfortunately for America, the clown-car Congress came back to work yesterday. And the first item of business was a right-wing threat to shut down the government on October 1 unless everyone agrees to defund Planned Parenthood.
My head hurts.
Do we really need to relive this kind of brinksmanship yet again? Two autumns ago, performance artist Ted Cruz had the genius idea of shuttering the government unless everyone agreed to kill Obamacare. Washington duly closed its doors for 16 days, the economy lost $24 billion, and when the Republicans finally came to their senses, Obamacare was still alive.
But, alas, some people never learn. The government is slated to run out of money on Sept. 30 unless a new funding measure is passed. Mindful of this deadline, 28 House conservatives are vowing to vote No if the new measure has money for Planned Parenthood. They say they “cannot and will not” agree to pay a blessed cent to the group that provides cancer screenings and other crucial health services to 2.7 million women a year.
Let it be recorded that all 28 House conservatives are men. But you probably figured as much.
There are many reasons why Republicans routinely get clobbered by women voters in presidential election years. This kind of stunt is one of those reasons.
One key stunt man is Jim Jordan, who chairs the House conservatives’ Freedom Caucus. He’s naturally convinced, citing the recent sting videos, that Planned Parenthood is illegally selling fetal tissue. He tells Politico that PP should lose its $500-million federal funding because of “what looks like criminal activity.” Never mind the fact (do facts still matter?) that not a single state investigation has turned up any evidence that PP has engaged in criminal activity.
Jordan and his allies are being cheered on by Heritage Action, the potent political wing of the conservative Heritage Foundation, which declares: “No pro-life member should be asked by party leaders to vote to continue funding Planned Parenthood. The Republican-controlled Congress must use the power of the purse to fully defund Planned Parenthood in September.”
But here’s the rub: John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and the rest of the Republican leaders recognize that this shutdown tactic is politically nuts. They know that the GOP would get the blame if it shuts the government – just as it did in 2013, just as it did when Newt Gingrich tried it in 1995. With a presidential election looming, they need to demonstrate that they can actually govern. A shutdown – triggered by right-wing hatred of a group that’s broadly supported by a majority of Americans – would be wildly counterproductive.
Even the Wall Street Journal -a reliably conservative voice – is pleading for sanity. In a Tuesday editorial, it lamented the latest “intra-party GOP drama.” It rightly pointed out that a shutdown would wind up hurting the party: “Most Americans know (Planned Parenthood) as a women’s health clinic…a standoff that becomes a shutdown will inevitably focus the public on the shutdown, not the videos.”
True that. The stories on Oct. 1 would be about campers and hikers being barred from national parks; elders worrying about their Social Security checks; scientists unable to conduct their government-sponsored research; small businesses realizing that their federal loans would be put on hold – all kinds of real-world stuff that ideologues don’t think about.
Speaking of ideologues, Ted Cruz is out front with the new shutdown threat. He’s been having a tough time lately – Donald Trump has stolen his demagogic thunder, Mike Huckabee elbowed him aside during Tuesday’s lovefest for homophobe clerk Kim Davis – so he has to do something to get back in the hunt for Iowa’s conservative caucus-voters. Hence, his current attempt to pressure Senate leaders into threatening a shutdown.
The Journal editorial ripped him a new one: “Mr. Cruz in particular knows Congress can’t win a shutdown showdown with Mr. Obama,” a reference to the president’s certain veto of any government-funding measure that omits Planned Parenthood. “His purpose is to pose as a relentless fighter so he can ride frustrated GOP voters to the presidential nomination.” And if the party’s image suffers in the swing states, Cruz would simply view that as “tolerable collateral damage.”
In other words, it’s the usual Republican fratricide. And we can see how this latest ginned-up crisis will probably play out: Boehner will keep Planned Parenthood’s funding, because sanity. The anti-PP conservatives will stand firm and refuse to vote for the government funding measure. Boehner will pass the measure anyway, with crucial help from the House Democrats. The government will stay open, conservatives will scream betrayal, threaten to dethrone Boehner, and various Republican presidential candidates (Cruz, Huckabee, etcetera) will have red meat for the campaign trail.
Unless we get a shutdown. As Charlie Dent, a Pennsylvania congressman and Republican leadership ally, told the press this week, “Never underestimate our ability to screw up.”
We don’t, Charlie. We most certainly don’t.