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Will the GOP Blackmail Dems into Defunding Planned Parenthood?

Republicans hate the organized pro-choice world so much because they believe pro-choicers have the power to win elections.

When the news came down Friday afternoon, it was genuinely shocking, which is a rare event in our era of over-the-top right-wing antics: House Republicans, following the lead of Planned Parenthood-obsessed Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., zeroed out spending for family planning services in the continuing resolution to fund the government.

Even though pro-choicers have known for years that the anti-choice movement opposes contraception right alongside abortion, these cuts to Title X, which doesn’t fund abortion but only contraception and other reproductive health care, were still a surprise, considering how popular contraception remains with the general public. Still, while this bill was a punch to the gut for the vast majority of Americans who support birth control services, most political watchers assumed it to be symbolic anti-choice posturing from House Republicans, and that the Senate and the president would not allow federal support of Planned Parenthood to be abruptly cut off.

I wish I could share their confidence in Planned Parenthood’s safety. There’s reason to fear this gesture is more than symbolic, and that Republicans could successfully blackmail Democrats into defunding Title X, a funding initiative that goes all the way back to radical feminist socialist Richard Nixon. For a hint of what could happen, look back at what happened with the Stupak amendment that nearly derailed health care reform, forcing Democrats to accept a compromise that dramatically curtailed access to abortion for low-income women. Republicans, and a handful of conservative Democrats, have already demonstrated that they will hijack the debate to attack women’s rights, and there’s no reason to think this won’t happen again.

The weapon of choice is the threat of a government shutdown. In 1995, House Republicans shut down the federal government in a fight with President Clinton over funding concerns, and Clinton was able to successfully pin the blame on the Republicans, which devastated them politically. One would hope that the lesson for Republicans would have been, “Don’t shut down the government,” but instead it seems like the lesson is going to be, “Those perceived as shutting down the government take the blame.” Because of this, the strategy that’s shaping up is to start blaming Democrats for a government shutdown before it even happens.

House Speaker John Boehner has made his intention to try to do just this very clear, claiming, “The only people cheering for government shutdown around here are Democrats, led by Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer. There’s been no talk about shutting the government down on our side.” It’s a blatant lie, of course, as Think Progress has amply demonstrated, but it’s not hard to figure out from his rhetoric what the hope is, which is to make a bunch of cuts to liberal mainstays under the guise of “fiscal responsibility,” and put the Democrats in a situation where they either accept these losses or face being blamed by Republicans for a government shutdown. And unlike in 1995, Republicans have Fox News and a cowed mainstream media ready to push that message.

The chances are high that the Democrats will give in to some cuts in order to avoid this showdown, especially considering how President Obama conceded Republican talking points by paying lip service to belt-tightening in his State of the Union address. Plus, the conventional wisdom is that having room to compromise by giving in to cuts is the Democrats’ best weapon.

Eugene Robinson went on "The Rachel Maddow Show" and spelled this out, saying, “The Democrats have a whole lot more maneuvering room, because, after all, they can give in to some budget cuts here and some budget cuts there. And the Democratic base is going to grumble and going to be annoyed, but it’s not really going to freak out.” What if it ends up being family planning funding that is sacrificed on the grounds that the pro-choice base has no power but to grumble?

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