“Pro-lifers are holding the country hostage because of their feud with Planned Parenthood.”
This is a meme we have heard before and may hear again.
What does it really mean?
It could refer to two separate processes; two separate dramas.
Right now in Washington, the Reconciliation process is winding down. Just today, the Senate parliamentarian ruled that it is germane for an amendment on defunding Planned Parenthood to be offered to the GOP version of the Reconciliation bill. The vote may happen as soon as next week.
How will that vote go? Pro-abortion Republicans in the Senate may not vote for the GOP Reconciliation bill, and some pro-life Republicans may not vote for it either—because they would rather repeal Obamacare in its entirety than “improve” it by removing the most objectionable sections (such as the funds for Planned Parenthood).
But that is the Reconciliation process—a drama which will end probably next week.
The next drama will be over the Appropriations process.
Congress must enact an Omnibus Appropriation package and send it to the President by December 11 . . . or else the government shuts down.
There are pro-life opportunities in the Appropriations process this year, but you probably haven’t heard about them.
To set the stage, first a definition. Appropriations process: the process of giving money to the government, i.e., funding the federal departments, agencies, and programs.
Every year, through the Appropriations process, Congress writes a one-year check for funding of all “discretionary” government programs for the next Fiscal Year.
Otherwise, “discretionary” programs would shut down. (Note: This affects only “discretionary” programs. Social Security is not at risk of shutting down because it’s not a “discretionary” program. Social Security is an example of mandatory spending that happens without an annual appropriation.)
The Appropriations process includes every area of discretionary government activity: e.g., defense, science, education, health and human services, foreign operations, agriculture, commerce, transportation—think of a federal department and it’s funded through an Appropriations bill that has worked or is working its way through the Appropriations Committee.
In the House, there are 12 subcommittees of the Appropriations Committee, each of which drafts a separate Appropriations bill. Once the Committee approves a bill it is ready to be considered by the full House.
This year the House approved half of the Appropriations bills, but no such bills were approved in the Senate, so “regular order” came to a standstill. (The House and the Senate cannot go to conference to resolve differences unless they both have approved their bills.)
So what happens? An Omnibus Appropriations bill will likely be drafted by the Appropriations Committees and Leadership of the House and Senate.
Of special interest to pro-lifers are the appropriations for family planning in its various disguises.
In 1971, Congress created Title X. Congress has not reviewed or reauthorized that since the mid- 1980’s (talk about a failure of oversight!). In the meantime, money has continued to flow through Title X to organizations like Planned Parenthood: $286 million last year. The current Appropriations bill in the House of Representatives zeroes out Title X: de-funds it entirely. The current Senate Committee-passed version of the Appropriations bill authorizes $258 million, a slight reduction.
The State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations bills are important for life issues, too. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) is zeroed out in the House bill, while the Senate increases its appropriation by $4 million.
There’s a separate authority for funding International Family Planning programs. That money goes to organizations like the Population Council, the International Planned Parenthood Federation, and other pro-abortion organizations that work to suppress the world’s non-white population. Think: China’s one-child policy. Yes, it was partly funded by you, the American taxpayer.
The current House bill provides for “not more than $461 million” for International Family Planning programs while the Senate bill provides “not less than $577 million.”
The fun begins because Appropriations bills can be amended.
Pro-life Members of Congress are waiting in the wings with amendments that will gladden our hearts. An amendment proposed to the Agriculture Appropriations bill would prohibit the genetic modification of human embryos. An amendment to the Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations bill is a version of the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA). And one to the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill would re-instate the Mexico City policy, which prohibits US dollars going to organizations that promote or perform abortions overseas.
In due time the Omnibus Appropriations bills will come to the floor of the House and the floor of the Senate, and it remains to be seen if these provisions will be retained. The House may well support these pro-life amendments. But the Senate most likely will not, since 60 votes are necessary to pass anything in the Senate.
This creates a failure to agree.
When the House position doesn’t agree with the Senate position the Speaker of the House (now Paul Ryan) and the Senate Majority Leader (Mitch McConnell) have to work it out with each other and with the White House, and end up with something that the President will sign.
If Title X remains zeroed out in the final version, President Obama won’t sign it.
Therein lies a possible drama—and therein lies the basis of the meme that pro-lifers are holding the country hostage to their campaign against Planned Parenthood.
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Connie Marshner is a commentator and researcher on life and family issues in the Washington, D.C., area.