women's march
Credit: Mobilus In Mobili/Flickr

Without getting bogged down in full spectrum of insanity that surrounds the Republican Party’s behavior and policy toward Planned Parenthood, I am willing to acknowledge that opponents of abortion have an understandable desire to not see federal funding go (however indirectly) to an organization that provides abortions. I may wish that they understood that the organization prevents many, many more abortions than it performs, but I still understand the basic logic that’s driving them. And I can see why they’re frustrated that a Republican Congress and a Republican president can’t find a way to stop “funding” Planned Parenthood.

But I’m at my wit’s end with people, on both poles of the political spectrum, who don’t understand the limitations of what our politicians can do. Ed Kilgore explains today that the anti-choice movement is freaking out because their highest priority legislative ask this year has died along with the plan to repeal Obamacare:

But there’s one important GOP faction that isn’t bowing down before the golden calf of tax cuts: the right-to-life movement, which has seen its major legislative goals thwarted by the health-care fiasco. Every one of the House and Senate Republican health-care bills included language “defunding” Planned Parenthood for a year and prohibiting use of Obamacare tax credits to buy insurance policies covering abortion. So the anti-abortion lobby is viewing the failure to pass any of this legislation as a broken promise to them. They want it redeemed right away, in the budget resolution Republicans are battling to reserve for tax cuts…

And there’s a quote from Students for Life president Kristan Hawkins who says “If this was a priority for leadership, they would have found a way to get this done. This is something we’ve been talking about for many years.”

There’s just one wee little problem. Back in July, the Senate parliamentarian ruled that legislative language in the health care legislation that was moving through the budget resolution/reconciliation process violated the Byrd Rule:

The Senate Republican health care bill has run into another major problem, as key anti-abortion provisions — a major selling point to conservatives — have been ruled to run afoul of Senate rules, endangering them altogether.

The Senate Parliamentarian provided guidance, released Friday by Senate Democrats, that provisions to effectively defund Planned Parenthood for a year and prevent tax credits from being used to buy insurance plans that cover abortion violate Senate budget reconciliation rules, meaning each would require 60 votes to be maintained on the Senate floor.

I have to get wonky here just for a moment. The Byrd Rule would allow for something that impacts spending or revenues, but not if the measure is purely incidental to the underlying legislation.

The rules of reconciliation dictate that provisions within the health care overhaul can’t have just an “incidental” budgetary effect. There was running skepticism that the Planned Parenthood provision would comply with that rule.

The parliamentarian ruled that whatever money Planned Parenthood would be denied didn’t qualify as germane to the object of the health care bill and the goals of budget reconciliation. And that’s why it didn’t matter whether or not the repeal bills passed or not if all you cared about was Planned Parenthood.

I don’t like to defend the Republican leadership, but what are they supposed to do? They can include the provision, but it will be stripped out. They can include the provision again for the new budget, but it will get stripped out again.

For anti-choice lobbyists, demanding that McConnell and Ryan attach this to tax reform is an example of simply not understanding the thing they’re paid to understand.

As Ed points out, they have a fallback plan even if they clearly don’t understand why it will be necessary:

What the RTLers could do, though, is threaten that if their cause isn’t included in the new budget resolution, they’ll think long and hard about taking hostage one of the two big “must-pass” bills coming up in December, the next debt-limit increase and an omnibus appropriations bill. It is unclear whether they might be willing to insist that their congressional allies actually risk a debt default or a government shutdown. But the possibility might strike GOP congressional leaders as more dangerous as just giving the anti-abortion lobby its pound of flesh by incongruously adding its agenda to a tax bill.

Whether it’s dumb or not, if their immediate demand is not met, the anti-choicers could try to take the December calendar hostage. I don’t see why the budget resolution is part of this conversation at this point, but they could conceivably get their way if they’re willing and able to force a government shutdown or credit default over this issue. I mean, it is at least possible in the sense that there’s no rule against it.

Believe me, I sympathize with the average voter who believes a candidate when they promise to do something even though what they’re promising isn’t realistic or likely. But the people who get paid to work in politics or to write about politics really need to do a better job of knowing what they hell they’re talking about.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com