Shutdown Showdown

Friday, April 08, 2011


Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, John Stanton, senior writer at Roll Call and Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today, discuss the possible federal government shut down unless Republicans and Democrats reach a last minute deal.

Culture Wars, Re-Ignited

With the specter of a government shutdown looming, reports today are that the biggest point of disagreement between Democrats and Republicans is no longer the actual budget, but social issues. Specifically, the Republicans want to include a rider in the budget that would cut off Title X funds to Planned Parenthood women's health clinics in Washington DC.

An agreement on the actual budget is near, and appears to be a compromise of about $34.5 billion in cuts. Republican Mike Pence cast the current debate as being not about the deficit, but about Democrats preferring to “shut the government down so they can continue to borrow money from China to fund the largest abortion provider in America.” 

Susan Page said that other Republicans are objecting to that framing.

John Boehner, the speakers office, said just in the last hour that spending‘s still the big issue and there is some dispute, not only about the very small dollar amount that separates them but about the composition of the cuts. But these policy riders, specifically the one on abortion are clearly also on the table.

Stanton agreed that Republicans are still fighting over dollars as well as social issues.

Republicans obviously want the abortion language and some other riders... but Republicans also have a point when it comes to the spending. Democrats don’t want all the cuts to come from discretionary funding from education or the environment or labor because in future budgets going forward, that would push the number down and make it much more difficult for them to hold the line there in their priorities.

Confusingly, while the Republicans object to Title X on the argument that federal money shouldn't pay for abortion, the Hyde amendment already mandates that the federal government may not pay for abortions for poor women.  Stanton explained that Republicans are arguing to cut all funding, even that which would go toward other health services (including prenatal care) for poor women, because they argue that any federal money that goes to Planned Parenthood frees up other money within the organization that could subsidize abortions for low-income women.

They view Planned Parenthood in particular as sort of a pro-abortion organization so they are hostile towards them and want to take the money away from them.

 Page joked that one has to live in Washington DC to understand that sort of logic. She said the gesture is largely symbolic.

This is a rider that is important to that portion of the Republican Party who are real hardcore social conservative for whom the idea of abortion is at the very top of their agenda.  I think a lot of Republicans, including the leadership, are worried about this, because… political independents, who decide elections, do not think we should shut down the government because of this policy rider involving money that COULD free up other money that COULD be used to help provide abortions for poor women.

Independents Want Compromise, Tea Partiers Don't

Recent polls indicate a significant schism growing between independents and Republicans. While a majority of Republicans want the House to stick to their guns, even if it means a shutdown, a majority of the country want the House to compromise and avoid a shutdown. Boehner may be in the uncomfortable position of having to choose whether to disappoint the Tea Party or make himself unlikely to win reelction. Page said Speaker Boener is in a very difficult spot. 

I think he has to decide how many of the Tea Party people he’s willing to lose, and still get a deal through. I think that’s the calculation he has to make.

Stanton agreed, and cautioned that things may not be what they seem in this budget deliberation.  

A lot of this has nothing to do with this fight at all. A lot of this has to do with the next budget fight for the next year, and even more importantly the debt limits increase that they’re going to have to vote on to make sure we don’t default on our loans. Speaker Boehner is going to have a lot of trouble keeping his people at home. He has decided for his own political calculus reasons, that he needs to pass these things with the greatest Republican majority possible… He’s gaming it out three steps, really.

The real fight will be about the next budget, said Page, so we might as well get used to this level of drama now. 

This fight is nothing, this is the sparring match before the main bout, which we’re going to see on the 2012 budget, on raising the debt ceiling, and especially in the debate over entitlements that also got launched last week. So as dramatic as a government shutdown sounds, we are in for a year of these kind of cliff-hanger debates.

The Trouble with Riders: EPA, NPR 

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York said that many of the original riders, such as the EPA riders which would have prevented the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases as pollutants, have been dropped. The Senator believes all the focus now is on the Title X [DC family planning] riders. “It’s hard to believe that House Representatives would shut down the government over this issue, but it looks like that’s where we’re headed unless they back off.” 

Stanton, however, is not convinced that, in fact, all the other riders are gone for good. 

The NPR language [a rider that would prohibit the Corporation for Public Broadcasting from funding NPR] I believe has been gone for now, the EPA may be off the table given the fact that there’s so much Senate opposition to it, but there are a lot of other ones that I think are still on the table and those could come back in.  It depends on where the Republicans are willing to give more on the mandatory spending versus discretionary spending; they’re going to demand more back on the policy rider side of things.

The Tea Party initially cast itself as being about a laser-like focus on fiscal issues, consciously leaving social issues behind, but Page said that they seem to have gone off-message rather quickly. 

That was certainly one reason the Tea Party was so powerful in 2009. They had a message that a lot of people — conservatives, independents, and moderates — agreed on, that spending was out of control and it put the countries future at risk and we needed to address it...  Some analysts think that what is happening with these policy riders is the Republicans are holding on to them as a final card to play, a final concession to make that would help them get more cuts and the kind of cuts they want.  And also that it serves them in terms of dealing with their own caucus, with Republicans in the House, to say ‘Boy we really fought for these, but at this last moment we’re going to have to give in on this abortion rider in order to get this deal through’. I think it is possible. Amazingly enough there is a lot of politics as well as actual financial discipline going on here.

Will There be a Shutdown Tomorrow?

Stanton thinks that is unlikely.

I still believe we will get a deal, and it will happen sometime this afternoon when Speaker Boehner talks to his conference and tries to sell them on an agreement. I’m still hopeful they can get it done.

Page was more cautious in her optimism, but said even a shut down might not be as bad as people think.  

People who are watching this closely in Washington are inclined to think that we will get a deal before they shut down. There are some who think we could get as shutdown through the weekend when it has less effect on people’s lives… No one thinks we’re in for the kind of extended shutdown we had at the end of 1995 that had such catastrophic effects on the Republican majority then.


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Comments [19]

Phoebe from Montclair, NJ

The existing Hyde Amendment prohibits federal funding for abortion procedures. Planned Parenthood does NOT use federal funds for this purpose. Pence's arguments are bogus. Rep. Chris Smith's (R-NJ) bill wants to deny care to victims of rape and incest, wants to prohibit women from buying, with their own money, any insurance policy having abortion coverage and wants to increase taxes on small business which provide comprehensive insurance. An additional bill (HR-358) wants to allow health and hospital workers to refuse abortion care to women in emergency and life-threatening situations without providing women any recourse.

Women's rights to comprehensive health and reproductive care are under attack. Religious liberty and the freedom to make one's own health decisions according to one's own religious and moral beliefs is under attack.

All of these recent bills have nothing to do with fiscal responsibility. These bills restrict, and in many cases, eliminate access to health care for millions of women. Funds for preventative care - cancer screenings, STD/HIV testing, contraception - result in savings of almost 4 to 1 on future health care costs.

So these bills have nothing to do with money. They are targeted to endanger women's health, restrict women's rights and erode religious freedom.

Apr. 08 2011 10:43 AM
john from office

I am sure I will get to you on another segment.

Apr. 08 2011 10:32 AM
jeff from brooklyn

The Tea Party were only "laser beamed focused"
on deficit/budget to those not paying attention:
the Religious Right didn't just disappear overnight-
and there are only so many Angry White Men
to go around. The Right operates by stealth and
Progressives get a laugh at Sarah Palin,
while the much less charasmatic Scott Walker
eviscerates 50 years of Progressivism. They
stack the school boards and then 20 years
later Progessives are shocked to learn creationism
is being taught in the public schools in Texas.
Fundamentalism looks a little tired: put on
a Paul Revere hat and wave around the

Apr. 08 2011 10:26 AM
Eileen McIntyre from Morganville, New Jersey

Why doesn't anyone talk about what this is really about? The economy is in recovery, albeit fragile. I watched the value of my life savings plummet during the second half of Bush's second term, and then watched it slowly but surely recover and continue to grow during the Obama presidency. Employment, that LAGGING INDICATOR, is finally turning around. All this is very bad news for the GOP as 2012 approaches. What better way to slow this recovery and create a better reelection climate for themselves than to scuttle the economic recovery with an government shutdown? They would rather see the country slide back into recession than allow this success during an Obama presidency.

Apr. 08 2011 10:25 AM
RJ from prospect hts

And Ed, the families people who have died from toxic poisoning in their landfills and their smog-filled air must also be thrilled that their rights to die are once again being supported by the Reps, along with all of the people who won't be able to apply for essential needs or will lose paychecks and whose affiliated businesses will suffer if the government closes down.

Apr. 08 2011 10:21 AM

john from office
u are the best. welcome to the real world!

Apr. 08 2011 10:21 AM

I hope this is a stalling method so that an extreme wing can claim a victory for fighting to the last minute. I don't approve of it, but I accept that all politics is showmanship.

If, on the other hand, this rider breaks the all the progress made up until now and the government shuts down... Well, "pro" is to "progress" as "con"... :-/

Apr. 08 2011 10:19 AM
Rct from NYC

So the Republicans have one again reduced all issues to their favorite hot button - abortion. It is a game, of course.

Apr. 08 2011 10:18 AM
Sarah from brooklyn

If republicans are going to use the abortion rhetoric to rile people up, why cant democrats counter back with the fact that Planned Parenthood is an organization for women's health primarily and not just abortion. We seem unable to spin things back for some reason and its frustrating.

Apr. 08 2011 10:17 AM

How about we also restrict the pell grants available to students of newly-founded diploma mill for-profit colleges? Taxpayers are allowing these "educational investors" (usually religious) to live richly while offering questionable programs, all while bankrupting both students and government loan programs.

Apr. 08 2011 10:17 AM
RJ from prospect hts

I'll be even more cynical. The Republicans will "blink" at the last moment--for the next few months--unavoidably losing because they know full well that Obama can't afford to lose the liberal women's vote by voting against Planned Parenthood--and will be able to revive the activist social conservatives who they need--along with the economically focused Tea Partiers--for their 2012 coalition.

And because the Dems are such poor messagers, it may well work.

Apr. 08 2011 10:16 AM
Xtina from E. Village

Really, republicans? Shutting down the entire US government over your narrow ideological stance? do you expect anyone to take you seriously anymore?

Apr. 08 2011 10:15 AM
Rct from NYC

The deal will be made tomorrow morning. The tea party will get to shut the govt down for a few hours and the moderates will save the country. That will be the deal that saves all faces.

Apr. 08 2011 10:15 AM

shut it down
remind people what the government is for.

Apr. 08 2011 10:13 AM
john from office

The republicans lost me on this issue. Obama 2012!
Abortion is the best thing that ever happened to this country. Do we really want a larger underclass, teen moms??

Abortion is a lost cause and the republicans need to leave it alone.

Apr. 08 2011 10:13 AM

I'm totally flattered that my uterus is once again the subject of such controversy in terms of completely unrelated legislation.

And Ed, make no mistake. This is solely about controlling women, period. The moment a fetus enters the world, any regard for his or her well-being is completely abandoned by the same people so hell-bent on forcing a woman to carry to term.

Apr. 08 2011 10:05 AM

Republicans need to explain why they support the right of a rapist to choose the mother of his child.

Apr. 08 2011 10:05 AM

Is there a number calculated of what a shutdown would cost the taxpayer? Say, per week, or per hour?

Apr. 08 2011 09:07 AM
Ed from Larchmont

It's very appropriate that the government might shut down over the issue of abortion funding. Abortion has destroyed lots of this country already. It is the issue of our time.

Apr. 08 2011 08:01 AM

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