“Change” in Reproductive Health Policy? A “Bipartisan” Farce in Four Acts

We find ourselves in a Ground-Hog Day-like situation in which the Democrats cave to the Republicans even when they are in power.

This is what bi-partisan looks like:

A farcical play in which the Democrats do everything right to win the White House, Senate, and House, and then run for cover from the big bad (minority status) Republicans as soon as they go on television and say the words: "family planning," "contraception," or "abortion."

The Democrats cave as quickly as you can say Mirena, give away the store, and still don’t gain any Republican votes.

This is now the longest running performance in Washington and apparently is in for another 4-year stint.  Like the movie, Groundhog Day, the Dems just keep doing it over and over with no change in outcome.  People are apparently too comfortable in their roles to change.

Here’s the script:

SCENE ONE: Democrats, when they are in power—when they have the White House, the House AND the Senate; when we’ve all volunteered and contributed ourselves to exhaustion getting them there—finally link basic reproductive health and family planning services with basic health care, economic security, and family security. 

In sum, they do the right thing.  They propose providing low-income people with the tools they need to make voluntary choices about planning their families.  This makes sense economically for families struggling to make ends meet and who want to avoid getting pregnant in the first place, it reduces the need for abortions because it reduces unintended pregnancies, and its good for the economy because it provides basic medical care and saves the states billions of dollars in both actual and future costs.  See Cory Richards’ piece for all the relevant facts.

Good so far?  Sounds like a good decision, right?

Should be bipartisan because that whole common ground thing is about ensuring people can avoid unintended pregnancies in the first place, right?

Not so much.  On to scene two.

SCENE TWO: The Republican misrepresentation machine goes into high gear.  The GOP looks for a reason to jettison the stimulus because (GASP!) it focuses on creating jobs as well as cutting taxes (and not just on cutting, cutting, cutting), and just generally because they are out of power and need to figure out how to embarrass the new Administration.  Even after President Obama includes some of their requests, they say "they have not been included."  They whine incessantly.

They ask themselves, "How can we get our way?"  Oh, right!  Contraception!

They focus on the portion of the bill that assists states with Medicaid funding and find that part of this includes (OMG!) support for contraceptives.  House minority leader John Boehner then goes on national television and highlights (YOU CAN’T REALLY MEAN THAT WE ARE PAYING FOR) contraceptives.  Innuendos abound as he refers snidely to the "stimulus," and the "size of the package," in the same sentence as contraception.  This despite the fact that, as Elana Schor points out on Talking Points Memo:

The family-planning program that Pelosi supports expanding in the stimulus bill was created in 1972 under the leadership of Republican president Richard Nixon.


"What’s being proposed is an expansion in the number of states that can use Medicaid money, with a federal match, to help low-income women prevent unwanted pregnancies.  Of the 26 states that already have Medicaid waivers for family planning, eight are led by Republican governors (AL, FL, MS, SC, CA, LA, MN and RI — a ninth, MO, had a GOP governor until this past November).

If this policy is truly a taxpayer gift to "the abortion industry," as John Boehner and House Republicans claim, where are the GOP governors promising to end the program in their states?"

Just once again proving that the states-rights, pro-family, Republican party will go to any lengths to score political points, including screwing both low-income women AND their own elected officials in the same act.  I hope they are practicing safer screwing.

But I digress.

Now of course, the media does their homework and asks good questions about why this is important, right?

Not so much.  On to scene three.

SCENE 3:  Enter the mainstream media, that overeducated bastion of liberal elitism, otherwise known as a bunch of largely white men all of whose female relatives I suspect have access to high-end ob-gyns and full coverage health care plans.

Bring out the talking parrots.

The whole thing becomes a joke.  The basic facts about the needs of poor and low-income women go by the wayside.  They just take the Republican line and run with it.

On the Sunday talk shows, for example, Sam Donaldson smirks and uses some of Boehner’s eloquent prose when he refers to the stimulus saying, in effect, “Just what are we stimulating here?”  (Wink, wink).

On MSNBC, Chris Matthews, having read what is apparently a highly classified version of the stimulus package to which only he has access somehow finds allusions (or should I say delusions?) to Obama creating a Chinese-style one-child-family-planning policy. 

MATTHEWS: I don’t know. It sounds a little like China.
[…] I think everybody should have family planning and everybody
believes in birth control as a right. I’m for — abortion is a right and
all that. It’s all right. But why should the federal government have a policy of reducing the number of births

Huh?  Memo to Chris: It’s about reducing unintended pregnancies.  

Can someone get this guy a research intern?  I know the media is cutting costs but…

Then, on Fox News, Neal Cavuto continues the trend of dithering media personalities showing no signs of rational argument.  First he claims that by offering low-income women and men affordable health care that includes access to contraceptives the government is intruding by telling people how many children to have (because you know those low-income people… they can’t make rational decisions… we smarter people need to make decisions for them). 

Then he flips around and argues that the government needs to tell people how many children to have, as long as it tells them to have… MORE!  He apparently shares a research intern with Cal Thomas on Fox Forum, who believes that Roe v. Wade is responsible for the current economic crisis:

We have already reduced the number of taxpayers by an estimated 50 million since abortion became legal in 1973. If we had 50 million more people paying taxes, would we be in our current budget malaise? People mean taxes and since taxes are what Democrats are about, they are harming the economy by advocating fewer people through abortion and contraception.

Let’s not blame George Bush and the Republicans for the economic situation.  It has to be Roe v. Wade.  It has to be contraception.  It has to be sex.  Governing this country is like playing Trivial Pursuit… if you don’t know the answer to a question, just say “Elvis Presley,” and you have more than a 50 percent chance of being right.  If you want to create controversy as a smoke screen for far bigger problems in the United States, just say the words "contraception, family planning, abortion."  I guarantee results. 

I am waiting for the connection between Roe v. Wade and Al Quae’da.

On to scene four.

SCENE FOUR:  The Democrats stand up for the data, the evidence, the ethical principle of ensuring that no matter how much misinformation is spewed out there, they have the evidence behind them, right?  After all, they have the votes in the House and the Senate to pass this without the Republican party.

And we have a President who told us that we would restore science and sanity to public policy, that we would stand up for our principles, and who, last week, actually reminded the Republicans that he won.

So they stand up for what is right? 


Not so much.

In an interview with George Stephanopoulos House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in fact stands up for including the Medicaid and contraceptive portion in the bill. 

On his website, George writes: 

I asked her about some of the more controversial spending in the stimulus package, including hundreds of millions to expand family planning services. 

(Actually, $200 million max, but “hundreds of millions" sounds better, right?)

Pelosi responds:

The family planning services reduce cost.  One of the elements of this package is assistance to the states. The states are in terrible fiscal budget crises now and part of what we do for children’s health, education and some of those elements are to help the states meet their financial needs. One of those – one of the initiatives you mentioned, the contraception, will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government.

But it is too late for her to inject any sanity.

Quickly, before the end of the day Monday, the White House, the one that stands for principle, distances itself from Pelosi.  “Not our idea,” they tell Associated Press.  “It was her idea, not our idea.”

Way to hang her out to dry. 

Apparently, bi-partisanship and the new politics means never having to have your own House Majority Leader’s back and that the White House spends more time making “common ground” with Republicans than figuring out what they stand for with their own party.

The White House signals they are ready to take the contraceptive piece out.  Because it is all about bipartisanship, right? This will get them the votes to do "more important things," right?

Phone calls placed to the White House Press Office Monday night are not returned. 

I wake up Tuesday morning to hear Carl Kasell on NPR report that the White House now plans to remove the contraceptive support from the stimulus bill, but that in the end doing so will not result in gaining any additional votes among House Republicans.

Women are screwed, the poor lose essential health care, the Republicans galvanize their nutcase base by removing contraception but will still run around playing the common ground card.

Could it maybe have been a better idea to flip this tired script and show some muscle right now? 

Was it so irrational to hope, perchance to dream, that Obama would get out there and say…"wait a minute, I am not caving to this misrepresentation of the facts nor denying the needs of low-income people for adequate health care.  Here are the facts and here’s where I stand?"

Oh, yeah….that only happens in the movies.

Close curtain.