Jeffrey Commentary: Obama Said 'Nope,' So Republicans Caved
According to a story in Sunday's New York Times, that is what President Barack Obama told House Speaker John Boehner last week when Boehner, as the Times put it, "was demanding a provision to restrict financing to Planned Parenthood and other groups that provide abortions."
Boehner asked again, the Times reported, and Obama again said: "Nope. Zero."
The bottom line: Boehner agreed to a deal to fund the government for the rest of fiscal 2011 that will permit continued federal funding for Planned Parenthood, a group that says it did 332,278 abortions in 2009 -- or about 910 per day.
This is despite the fact that the House voted 240 to 185 in February for an amendment to prohibit Planned Parenthood funding in the bill they initially passed to fund the government for the rest of this fiscal year.
Boehner had a massive bipartisan majority of the House behind him on defunding Planned Parenthood -- but he still caved.
He did win a farcical face-saving concession from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who promised to hold a vote in the Senate on stand-alone legislation to prohibit funding of Planned Parenthood. But this was an easy concession for Reid to make. As a stand-alone bill, Planned Parenthood defunding will never pass the Senate.
That is because the stand-alone legislation will be subjected to a cloture vote -- to end debate on it -- before it is taken up on its merits. The cloture vote needs the support of 60 senators. In this Senate, getting 60 votes to defund Planned Parenthood would be impossible.
In fact, it will be unlikely in any Senate in the near future.
Consider: If the Republicans were to win control of the White House and the Senate in the November 2012 elections and increase their House majority by another 40 pro-life congressmen, would they then be able to defund Planned Parenthood with a stand-alone bill? Not likely.
Even if the new president was committed to defunding Planned Parenthood and 280 members of the 435-member House were ready to vote for it, a stand-alone measure would still need 60 votes in the Senate. If three or four Republican senators were social liberals committed to maintaining federal funding for the nation's top abortion provider, Planned Parenthood funding would be maintained. The Republicans might need a 65-vote majority in the Senate to overcome their own defectors.
Does this mean Planned Parenthood will never be defunded? No, it does not. It only means Planned Parenthood will never be defunded so long as Republican leaders think the way Speaker Boehner did last week in his negotiations with President Obama.
Imagine if the conversation between Obama and Boehner had been turned around.
Obama says to Boehner: I want funding for Planned Parenthood and for implementation of my health care plan. Boehner says to Obama: nope, not a penny for either one.
Obama to Boehner: Are you saying you're ready to shut down the government over funding for Planned Parenthood and implantation of my health care plan?
Boehner to Obama: No, Mr. President, the House is ready to send Sen. Reid legislation that funds the government and keeps it running, but helps trim our $1.2 trillion deficit by cutting funding for Planned Parenthood and implementation of your health care plan. If you and Sen. Reid refuse to approve that legislation because maintaining funding for the nation's largest abortion provider and for your big-government health care plan is more important to you than keeping the rest of the government running, that is your choice. But the House will not be funding Planned Parenthood or your health care plan -- under any circumstances.
Boehner did not say that, of course, and the deal he cut with Obama allows funding for Planned Parenthood and implementation of Obamacare.
As with Planned Parenthood, the Senate will hold a face-saving vote on a stand-alone bill to repeal the health care law. But Reid allowed that one, too, because he knows Senate Democrats can prevent it from passing -- and, even if it did pass the Senate, Obama could veto it without having to shut down many other government functions as a consequence.
The Republican leaders in Congress now say they are turning to bigger things than the cuts they did not win in the Boehner-Obama deal. They will now play for trillions in cuts instead of billions.
But why would Obama say anything but "nope" to those, too, when the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30? Will Republicans then force him to choose between shutting down the government or reforming Medicaid?
Or will they wait until 2013, hoping the economy does not crash before then, or that China and Japan do not before that time stop buying a chunk of the massive debt the Treasury must market every month? Do they hope that in February or March of 2013 they might be able to get Senate cloture votes for dramatic reforms?
What will come first -- Republicans ready to play hardball with Obama and Reid or a hard crash for the American economy?
Meanwhile, if it maintains its 2009 pace, federally funded Planned Parenthood will terminate the lives of 910 babies per day.