The current budget impasse threatening a government shutdown appears to revolve around highly controversial federal funding for Planned Parenthood and its ancillary provision of legal abortions. Republicans want to eliminate all Federal Funds of around $360 million per year and Democrats are fighting to keep the funding. I support the Republican position in this fight.
This position might surprise some TMV readers due to my expressed political, economic, social and religious views on other topics. It may be consistent or inconsistent but I don’t care. Every issue must be analyzed on its own facts and merits and this post is my attempt to do so.
Let’s first put this issue in perspective with respect to the proposed $33 to $50 Billion in other cuts that have already been agreed-upon in the current year’s (FY ‘09-‘10) federal budget. At best this disputed amount constitutes about one percent (1%) of the total funding reductions to be made this year.
Today Planned Parenthood has around 785 Clinics across the U.S. There is one within walking distance from where I live in Central Phoenix. Total Revenues for Planned Parenthood in 2008-2009 were $1.02 Billion with Federal Funds constituting 35% of that total amount. Total Net assets of the organization stood at just under $1 billion during 2009. This comes to a per clinic operating budget of around $1.3 million each.
These clinics provide poor and low-income women with STD testing, various contraceptive, family and health advice and treatments, plus about 10% of its activities involve providing legal abortions (as per U.S. Supreme Court decisions) – most of which cannot be performed with any federal funds anyway. Planned Parenthood performed over 324,000 legal abortions in FY ’08-’09. Many healthcare organizations indicate that a typical abortion costs about $600 and many women do not even use their existing health insurance for them so as not to send up any red flags to their employers. Those women who use Planned Parenthood for abortion services do not even have the $600 readily available.
Abortion has been a very contentious issue for several decades now. If one aspect of your organization’s mission is providing legal abortions, and if you seek and accept federal funds, you should expect many conditions and riders attached to such public funding assistance. If you want more organizational flexibility and independence, relying on public funds should be seriously reconsidered and reduced. Even though I personally support legal abortion rights in limited situations, I prefer public policy stresses, funds and expands contraceptive use and comprehensive sex education in schools.
This controversy did not just appear this year but has been festering for at least a decade. That has been ample time for Democrats, Liberals and supporters of abortion rights to make alternative plans. To scream now the world is coming to an end and that only a Federal shutdown would be the best forum to present your arguments, I say you are acting irresponsibly and emotionally. [Republicans are petty to start this debate over such a small politicized funding amount but they can shut the government down at this point in time.]
This analysis reflects my prior posts decrying the lack of a moderate, civil debate on all aspects of our society and our public policies. We need to focus on the major priorities and be willing to compromise or discard some far lesser ones. Planned Parenthood is not worth shutting down the government. If this were the result and principle sticking point, I would solely blame Democrats and this Administration for the shut-down. For Republicans to celebrate dropping $364 million from the $1.5 trillion annual Federal Deficit is not unlike declaring victory over killing a fly that has been buzzing around your head for the past 15 minutes while for the past two hours the entire house has been burning down. Both sides look stupid but Democrats a bit more on this particular issue.
I also have posted in TMV the need for this nation and its leadership to determine how to pursue various national, state and local priorities and the need to fairly distribute responsibilities to individuals, households, for-profit businesses, non-profit foundations, and various levels of government to achieve those goals. This Planned Parenthood debate is a good opportunity to come up with a reasonable and sane alternative that does not hold the entire operations of the Federal Government hostage to a small organization that rankles about half the nation.
I would strongly argue there are enough wealthy liberals that should be willing to collectively raise $360 million annually if they believe providing free abortions and other healthcare services to poor women are important goals for our society. They really should not expect a highly polarized society over religious and social issues to agree to publicly fund these specific priorities that are far down the list of major national priorities.
The organizational, financial, legal and tax advantages of non-profit foundations are many, including their flexibility and independence from much public oversight and their ability to operate and raise money tax-free. Some very large and respected multi-billion dollar healthcare organizations are non-profit foundations – the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic come to mind immediately.
There is still enough wealth in the U.S. – even in the hands of progressives and liberals – to adequately fund Planned Parenthood so it would not need to go begging to the Federal Government for 35% of its annual budget. I would also argue that the organization change its name to anything else. It is akin to people wanting to call their company “Enron” even knowing the serious ethical and corruption taint that name implies.
As a compromise with Republicans, Planned Parenthood could keep some funds for the balance of this fiscal year while supporters set up alternative private funding with the full understanding that the organization will not receive any more federal funds in the future. But even that transitional funding request should not result in a government shutdown.
If the dispute over the current budget impasse rests on riders attempting to defund or repeal the healthcare and/or financial reform legislation passed last year, then Democrats have a far better political and philosophic rationale to stand their ground. But if it involves small funding disputes over Planned Parenthood, NPR or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, then Democrats should compromise and be willing to end federal funding since all these organizations have alternative private funding options to continue their operations without government intrusion.
Both parties should pick their fights carefully because eventually the generally public will learn of the underlying disputes and reasoning, and may allocate blame for a government shutdown in ways completely unanticipated by either party or by the many media pundits and commentators writing around the blogosphere.
So let’s stop the nonsense, pass another short-term budget bill so the Federal Government can continue to operate without interruption. There are plenty of larger fights looming this year, including raising the Federal Debt ceiling in May and passing a budget for FY ’11-’12. We realy need to move on to more important issues.
Submitted 4/8/11 by Marc Pascal from Phoenix, Arizona.
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