Apr 082011
Entrance to the Planned Parenthood Federation ...

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Do you think there are many great athletes amongst those who don’t care for sports? How about capable accountants who don’t like numbers? Surgeons who are turned off by blood or teachers by kids?

Regardless of a person’s profession, in order to excel, in order to even become competent, there must be some interest on the part of the individual that will motivate them to perform. Great musicians love music; great scientists are inspired by science; engineers find reward in design and creation, nurses in providing care, and programmers in writing clever code. In order to have effective government, it’s absolutely essential that our elected officials are motivated to “govern,” because those who can’t govern — politic.

This sad truth is the real story behind the cavalier attitude held by the House Republican majority now pressing for a shutdown of the federal government. They have abandoned their constitutional responsibility to fund the government in favor of seizing an opportunity to forward their political agenda, and they’re holding millions of Americans hostage in the process.

As required by legislation, President Obama fulfilled his duty and presented the Congress with a budget for fiscal 2011 in February of 2010. That budget was supported by Democrats in Congress but was blocked by Senate Republicans who would not agree to pass long-term funding. When the new fiscal year started in October of 2010, the government had to be funded or else face shutdown, and the response was bipartisan agreement to pass emergency funding in the form of a “continuing resolution” or CR.

Since that time, the federal government has been funded through a series of CRs, six in all, with the last remaining in effect until midnight tonight. A great outcome for Republicans, who appreciate the fact that the CRs essentially freeze spending at 2010 levels and prevent the implementation of the new healthcare law and financial reform bill. But for the state and local agencies that don’t receive funding under the temporary measures, or for anyone else interested in a functional government, it’s indicative of a failure to govern.

So, with time running out, the debate has surrounded the depth of spending cuts to be passed. The Republicans responded to the President’s $3.64 trillion budget proposal, with a proposal of their own that contains $61 billion in cuts all coming from the $441 billion slice of the budget consisting of non-defense discretionary spending. These cuts are all directed at programs that benefit the needy and the nation as a whole. From billions in cuts to education and HUD and more than $3 billion from the EPA, to nearly $1 billion from energy efficiency efforts, over $1 billion from FEMA First Responders, and nearly $2 billion from job training. Over half ($33 billion) of the Republican’s planned cuts are at the expense of  labor and transportation/housing.

Desperate for a compromise solution, President Obama and the Democrats have countered the Republican proposal with an additional $33 billion in heavy spending cuts to social programs. According to Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, they even upped the ante to $38 billion, in exchange for Republicans dropping all policy riders (i.e. specific policy positions, like cuts to EPA, etc.). But Republicans, led by Speaker John Boehner are still refusing to compromise, with the last remaining bone of contention apparently the $317 million in federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

Of course, Boehner still contends that the debate is over “spending.” So, according to his map of the world, the $23 billion difference in spending cuts, a whopping 6-tenths of 1% of the federal budget, is worth shutting down the government of the United States.

A shutdown would mean disruption of government services, including pay for military personnel. It would delay processing of applications in several federal programs, close national parks and museums, and require furloughs for 800,000 federal workers. Nobody knows how much a shutdown would cost American taxpayers, but the toll of closing the parks alone is estimated to be $32 million per day, with the lion’s share impacting small businesses in local economies.

So, whether you buy Boehner’s spin on the divide or not, the fact of the matter is that there will be a price to pay for a shutdown, and regardless of the Speaker’s true motivation, the rider to defund Planned Parenthood is still in the mix.

Republicans, and especially Tea Partiers, have painted a target on Planned Parenthood as the national bastion for abortion. According to Senator John Kyl (R-AZ), abortion services amount to “well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does. The truth is that they actually account for only 3% of services, with the other 97% being centered on preventative assistance. The real focus being reproductive care for women who can’t afford alternatives, Planned Parenthood provides millions of breast exams, Pap smears and other services to a population where 75% of those treated live below the poverty level.

In the end, if there’s any legitimacy in Boehner’s claim that “the big fight is over the spending,” then the Republicans need to end their assault on Planned Parenthood. Federal law has prevented the use of federal funds for abortion since 1976 anyway, and $317 million of the federal budget is less than we spent in a single day bombing Libya.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has already rolled out the Republican proposal for the 2012 budget. That’s where the fight on spending cuts needs to move. After all, fiscal 2011 is already half over.

Right now, Republicans need to drop their “government is the problem” position and pretend for a minute that they’re actually interested in governing. They need to recognize that the Democrats have already compromised to the tune of 62% of what’s been demanded. They need to understand that good governing isn’t based on winner-take-all.

They really need to set aside their partisan agenda long enough to put the wellbeing of our nation ahead of their political gain.

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