It’s Not Really About Spending
If the federal government shuts down at midnight on Friday — which seems likely unless negotiations take a sudden turn toward rationality — it will not be because of disagreements over spending. It will be because Republicans are refusing to budge on these ideological demands:
• No federal financing for Planned Parenthood because it performs abortions. Instead, state administration of federal family planning funds, which means that Republican governors and legislatures will not spend them.
• No local financing for abortion services in the District of Columbia.
• No foreign aid to countries that might use the money for abortion or family planning. And no aid to the United Nations Population Fund, which supports family-planning services.
• No regulation of greenhouse gases by the Environmental Protection Agency.
• No funds for health care reform or the new consumer protection bureau established in the wake of the financial collapse.
Abortion. Environmental protection. Health care. Nothing to do with jobs or the economy; instead, all the hoary greatest hits of the Republican Party, only this time it has the power to wreak national havoc: furloughing 800,000 federal workers, suspending paychecks for soldiers and punishing millions of Americans who will have to wait for tax refunds, Social Security applications, small-business loans, and even most city services in Washington. The damage to a brittle economy will be substantial.
Democrats have already gone much too far in giving in to the House demands for spending cuts. The $33 billion that they have agreed to cut will pull an enormous amount of money from the economy at exactly the wrong time, and will damage dozens of vital programs.
But it turns out that all those excessive cuts they volunteered were worth far less to the Republicans than the policy riders that are the real holdup to a deal. After President Obama appeared on television late Wednesday night to urge the two sides to keep talking, negotiators say, the issue of the spending cuts barely even came up. All the talk was about the abortion demands and the other issues.
Democrats in the White House and the Senate say they will not give in to this policy extortion, and we hope they do not weaken. These issues have no place in a stopgap spending bill a few minutes from midnight.
A measure to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions came up for a Senate vote on Wednesday and failed. If Republicans want to have yet another legislative debate about abortion and family planning, let them try to pass a separate bill containing their restrictions. But that bill would fail, too, and they know it, so they have chosen extortion.
The lack of seriousness in the House is reflected in the taunting bill it passed on Thursday to keep the government open for another week at an absurdly high cost of $12 billion in cuts and the ban on District of Columbia abortion financing. The Senate and the White House said it was a nonstarter. Many of the same House members who earlier had said they would refuse to approve another short-term spending bill voted for this one, clearly hoping they could use its inevitable failure in the Senate to blame the Democrats for the shutdown. What could be more cynical?
The public is not going to be fooled once it sees what the Republicans, pushed by Tea Party members, were really holding out for. There are a few hours left to stop this dangerous game, and for the Republicans to start doing their job, which, if they’ve forgotten, is to serve the American people.