Government Shutdown Threatened By Republicans Over Planned Parenthood

Ryan Grim – ryan@huffingtonpost.com First Posted: 04/ 7/11 11:36 PM ET , Updated: 04/ 7/11 11:56 PM ET

WASHINGTON — The United States government is on the verge of shutting down over a dispute about subsidized pap smears, according to sources familiar with the budget negotiations.

The White House and Senate Democrats have publicly capitulated to ever-increasing Republican demands for spending cuts, but negotiations over the budget for the remainder of the fiscal year have shifted their focus from money to so-called riders — provisions that restrict the federal government from spending money on certain projects or entities.

Riders are used by members of Congress to make social policy without going through the regular congressional committee process, or they are used to benefit business interests by specifically blocking the government from spending money to write or enforce certain regulations.

At a late-night White House meeting between the president and key congressional leaders, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) made clear that his conference would not approve funding for the government if any money were allowed to flow to Planned Parenthood through legislation known as Title X. “This comes down to women’s health issues related to Title X,” a person in the meeting told HuffPost.

The negotiations are dominated by men: All of the principal negotiators in both parties are male, as are most of the senior staff involved. (House Democrats, led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), have largely been left out of key talks.)

House Republicans have been insisting the roadblock to cutting a new budget deal is not just the culture-war riders attached to the spending plan, but a source familiar with a top-level White House meeting earlier Thursday said most of the discussion in fact was about the riders.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and President Barack Obama met at 1 p.m., and while the discussion started with the numbers, a senior Democratic aide said it soon turned to non-budgetary provisions like defunding Planned Parenthood, Environmental Protection Agency rules — and then some.

“They started talking about the money, but most of meeting was spent on the riders,” a senior Democratic source said. “It wasn’t just the top-line stuff. They got down into the smaller details and provisions — things like mountaintop mining and other rules.”

A similar dynamic played out late Thursday night in a meeting that led to no agreement.

Following the midday meeting, Senate Democrats met to chart a course forward and emerged united in opposition to any riders regarding Planned Parenthood — which does not use federal funds to pay for abortions — or the EPA.

“The riders that have nothing to do with deficit reduction have sort of taken over Boehner and the Republican Party,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters. “And unless they back off those riders, it’s going to be impossible pretty much to avoid a shutdown. It’s that simple.”

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the number-two Democrat in the upper chamber, said that Boehner was under pressure on social issues not from the Tea Party, but from senior Republicans. “It’s not about reducing the deficit. It’s about hitting programs. He’s gotta cut programs. And we think still we can reach agreement on the money. But he is under enormous pressure and he says it’s not from the Tea Party, it’s from the old guard, the Republican guard, that wants to once and for all show that they can force through some of these social issues, like abortion,” Durbin told reporters Thursday evening in the Capitol. “The rider list gets longer and longer and non-negotiable.”

A GOP aide confirmed Durbin’s claim that it’s the senior members who are insisting on riders. Polls show that the public is likely to blame the Tea Party for any shutdown, but ironically, most new members are more passionate about spending than social issues. Yet the public is likely to conflate the Tea Party with the culture wars if the government ultimately shuts down due to a dispute over funding for family planning.

“It’s mostly a few older members who have seen an opportunity,” said the GOP aide. “If you were to ask the freshmen individually, only a few would say this is all about the riders. And even amongst that smaller group, they would be split,” with some focused on the EPA and others on restricting funds for health care.

“The true Tea Party guys in our conference are all about spending. That’s it. Whatever the final deal is — even if we got [the National Right to Life Committee] to score it — we’d lose some guys because it didn’t meet the full $100 billion,” the aide added.

HuffPost spoke to a number of GOP freshmen, many of whom said they were more committed to funding cuts than policy riders. Although most voted for Republican-sponsored policy riders, some said they were willing to compromise as long as the final figure for cuts was large enough.

“My motivation is reducing the threat of the federal budget deficit, and I am flexible as to what gets cut so long as things get cut sufficient to avoid a federal government bankruptcy,” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) told HuffPost in March.</