Stimulus and contraceptives

STIMULUS AND CONTRACEPTIVES…. House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) appeared on “Meet the Press” yesterday, complaining about a proposed stimulus package. He noted, in particular, a proposal to spend “over $200 million for contraceptives.” He asked, “How will this fix an ailing economy?”

Apparently, the contraceptives proposal has become quite an issue for conservatives. It was the lead story on Drudge this morning, far-right blogs are all worked up, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was quizzed on the spending on ABC yesterday.

What’s this all about? Are Democrats trying to spend “over $200 million” on condoms? What’s the story?

As you might have guessed, it’s not quite as scandalous as conservatives would have you believe.

[T]he family-planning program that Pelosi supports expanding in the stimulus bill was created in 1972 under the leadership of Republican president Richard Nixon.

What’s being proposed is an expansion in the number of states that can use Medicaid money, with a federal match, to help low-income women prevent unwanted pregnancies. Of the 26 states that already have Medicaid waivers for family planning, eight are led by Republican governors (AL, FL, MS, SC, CA, LA, MN and RI — a ninth, MO, had a GOP governor until this past November). If this policy is truly a taxpayer gift to “the abortion industry,” as John Boehner and House Republicans claim, where are the GOP governors promising to end the program in their states?

Additionally, the process of obtaining a waiver for Medicaid family-planning coverage is extremely cumbersome. A letter written by Wisconsin health regulators in 2007 noted that some states have had to wait for as long as two years before their request was approved. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that eliminating the waiver requirement would save states $400 million over 10 years.

It’s likely that Boehner, Drudge, and others hope that they can simply say, “Democrats want to spend $200 million of your money on contraceptives” and the howls will be so loud, the money will be stripped from the spending bill. As is too often the case, they’re assuming the public won’t hear, or care about, the details.