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GOP Threatens To Shut Down Government Over Planned Parenthood — But it Probably Won't Happen

The latest round in the national fight over abortion rights has led a handful of Republican lawmakers to threaten to shut down the US government for the second time in two years.

by Liz Fields
Sep 21 2015, 9:50pm

In this Oct. 2, 2013 file photo, despite signs stating that the national parks are closed, people visit the World War II Memorial in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Last week, Carly Fiorina, the new darling of the 2016 Republican nominee pool, claimed she watched footage of a "fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain."

The former Hewlett-Packard CEO made the allegations at the second GOP debate last Wednesday about one of several sting videos recently released by undercover pro-life activists — this one purportedly showing a live-abortion at a Planned Parenthood clinic. Fact checkers say that footage doesn't actually exist and the video only describes the act. Yet Fiorina continued to defend her statements this week and at least four of her fellow Republican candidates have also jumped on board with legislative attempts to defund Planned Parenthood — a measure passed by the House at the end of last week following the video fiasco.

Misinformation has commonly dogged the heated debates on abortion that continue to inform and divide the political landscape. Yet this time, the fight has led a handful of lawmakers to threaten to shut down the US government shutdown for the second time in two years, unless Congress strips the nation's largest women's reproductive health provider of its roughly half-billion dollars of annual federal funding before the fiscal year ends on September 30.

Leading the pack is Texas Senator and 2016 presidential hopeful Ted Cruz, the chief agitator of the previous 16-day partial government shutdown in 2013 over Obamacare. At least 31 Republicans have also signed onto a letter vowing to block any spending bill that maintains funding for Planned Parenthood. 

Yet other candidates, like Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton, maintain such intimidation is the "height of irresponsibility," especially considering abortion-related services account for only three percent of services provided by Planned Parenthood, which also provides screenings for cancer and sexually transmitted diseases, and contraception.

Planned parenthood has denied selling fetal tissue, instead claiming the transactions were donations and that the videos were heavily edited and obtained under false pretenses.

Related: Planned Parenthood Calls Out Fiorina's Garbage Dump of Lies at GOP Debate

It wouldn't be the first time a government shutdown closes office doors and furloughs tens of thousands of public service workers over a hyperemotional political issue. Lawmakers have long used the appropriations process to try to settle specific policy crusades, and have succeeded in shutting down government at least nine times since Congressional Budget Act was passed roughly 40 years ago, according to a report this month by the Partnership for Public Service.

That's precisely why Washington must avoid a sequel to the disastrous political standstill of 2013, says NYU professor of Public Service Paul C. Light, who is also a visiting fellow at the RAND Institute. Light says there's a 40 to 60 percent chance the government would shut down on October 1.

"I know there's a gloom and doom scenario that Republicans are going to shoot themselves in the electorate again, but as Donald Trump would say: 'How stupid could they be?'" Said Light. "Planned Parenthood is activating a significant strain within the Republican base — Carly Fiorina clearly used it — but whether or not anybody wants to shut down government to prove that point, I don't know."

"I guess I'm just a believer that no Republican is really that much of a risk taker or that ignorant of the public opinion against a shutdown," he added.

A recent CNN/ORC poll found that a majority of Americans (71 percent) believe passing a spending bill takes precedence over defunding Planned Parenthood. Only 22 percent of respondents chose the latter issue as more important.

The more likely scenario is that Congress will instead pass a short-term continuing resolution to keep funding flowing to government while a larger package is worked out, the Partnership for Public Service's Vice President of Policy, John Palguta, said.

"They don't have time to pass a full appropriation for each agency, so there'll be continuing resolutions, which could last for 1-2 weeks or until the end of the calendar year. They'll figure that out," said Palguta. "The longer the [continuing resolution] the better it is for operations, as government managers can at least plan a little bit in advance."

Light said that the "significant damage" inflicted by the last shutdown should serve as a warning against engaging again in the same type of frenzied brinkmanship that brought the government to its knees two years ago.

The the Partnership report, titled Government Disservice, measured the negative effects of the last government shutdown in 2013, during which some 800,000 federal employees were furloughed across a range of sectors interrupting numerous critical services to do with public health, environmental protection, food safety, small business loans, and nuclear and chemical plant safety.

The shutdown also cost taxpayers an estimated $24 billion in lost output, revenue, and stymied economic growth, according to Standard & Poor's. But the more damaging cost of shutdowns is actually in productivity and public confidence in the government, said Palguta.

"If you were investing in a major business, you'd take your money out of that corporation if something like [a shutdown] happened," said Palguta. "It does cause people to wonder about the ability of government to function, especially because you're devoting resources to shutdown activities and a lot of notifications to get ready for the shutdown, and then afterward to bring things back to speed. It's all a wasted effort and resources that could be better spent elsewhere."

Related: Planned Parenthood Wasn't Invited To Congress' Hearings on Planned Parenthood

Ahead of the October 2013 shutdown, government agencies began their contingency planning weeks in advance, to figure out the best way to close services, triaging essential and non-essential services in order of priority, with the intent to minimize disruption to the public in the event of a shutdown.

Yet even if Republican lawmakers succeed in shutting down government, and/or curbing funding to Planned Parenthood — most of which actually flow through entitlement programs like Medicaid and Title X — states can still spend money for Medicaid recipients to use the organization's services.

Even some anti-abortion groups were inclined to agree that a shutdown isn't the answer. The National Right to Life Committee, the largest anti-abortion/pro-life organization in the US, said that the current game plan is only serving to hurt the GOP and the pro-life cause.

"How long would the government be shut down? Two weeks? Two months? Six months? 15 months?" NRL president, Carol Tobias, said last week. "I do not believe that Obama will 'cave' to demands to sign legislation that blocks funding for Planned Parenthood, no matter how long he has to wait for the situation to be resolved — especially since he knows that every day that shutdown continues, Republican approval numbers will sink in the polls."

Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields

Watch the VICE News documentary: "Misconception: the Fake Abortion Clinics of America."

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abortion
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government shutdown
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