WASHINGTON – Minnesota’s congressional Republicans are not joining others in their party willing to risk a federal government shutdown as a way to cut funding for Planned Parenthood.
Congress is without a budget deal and lurching toward a government shutdown after new videos leaked by anti-abortion activists show executives discussing the transport of fetal tissue from abortions. Many Republicans are demanding that the roughly $500 million in federal dollars a year going to the family planning organization — Minnesota’s clinics receive between $2.6 million and $2.8 million of that — should instead be funneled to community health centers.
Minnesota’s Republican legislators say this new abortion fight is not worth a shutdown, particularly after the GOP bore most of the blame after the government closure in 2013.
Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., who has held 11 town-hall style forums since getting elected, said that he hears disgust from his district about Planned Parenthood and President Obama, but that there is an expectation that members govern, too.
“I didn’t hear any overwhelming, ‘Shut this thing down’ from people,” Emmer said.
Democrats overwhelmingly opposed the bill wiping out funding for the family planning organization, and President Obama has vowed to veto any legislation that would strip federal money from the group. A bill in the Senate that would cut Planned Parenthood’s money has created a path to a shutdown just days before the Sept. 30 deadline to fund the government, but it is far from certain the measure would pass the House.
As House members return to the Capitol Thursday after a long break, they have about five working days to figure out how to fund the federal government.
At issue is federal money for Planned Parenthood, which has government contracts to perform cancer and health care screenings, mostly for low-income people.
Funding abortions with federal dollars is already prohibited. But because of the controversy over the use of aborted fetuses, more than two dozen Republicans have signed a letter saying they will not support a budget deal if it includes cash for the organization. This leaves the odds of a shutdown somewhat higher even though Republican leadership has been maneuvering for weeks to avoid it.
Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., said he was appalled by the Planned Parenthood videos, but he “can’t think of a time” when a government shutdown is a good idea.
“In the end, I don’t see how we prevail. You’re hurting millions of people. … All the men and women in uniform, they won’t get paid,” Kline said. “I certainly hope we find a way to apply enormous pressure to stop the practice revealed to be so grotesque without shutting down the government.”
Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., said he has tried to talk privately with some of his colleagues pushing for a Planned Parenthood ultimatum, arguing that the approach is “not good governing.”
“I don’t want to see us lose momentum,” he said. “I support a moratorium to funding Planned Parenthood. I think that’s reasonable. But at the same time, in the end, shutting down the government is not a good negotiating strategy.”
Congress may actually push off the whole debate to the holidays in hopes of securing a bigger budget deal that may include some more money for roads and bridges, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said Thursday. Senate leaders are currently debating a stopgap measure to temporarily fund the government through Dec. 11.
“I think that everyone knows we can’t have another manufactured crisis,” said Klobuchar, referring to the 16-day shutdown two years ago over funding for the Affordable Care Act. “It affects everything from trying to dial a phone number at a local Social Security office to trying to get a passport.”
Klobuchar said the group of senators who came together last time to work out a deal to reopen the government — she calls it the “Common Sense caucus” — stands by to work out a bipartisan deal if needed.
On the Senate floor earlier this week, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., called out the minority of Republicans who are pushing for an ultimatum on Planned Parenthood funding.
“This is an extreme proposal and it unfortunately represents the latest salvo in an unending campaign to make safe and legal abortion virtually impossible to access,” he said.
Shutdowns are not only destructive to the federal government workforce — there are about 19,000 federal employees in Minnesota — they hurt businesses awaiting permits and certain types of federal loans, said Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., who supports federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
Nolan called the prospect of a shutdown a “ridiculous, terrible, costly way of wasting time and taxpayer dollars.”
“I spent 32 years in business and this is just very, very harmful to business and job creation and people’s confidence in the people’s government,” he said, noting that the federal budget always has things in it that he disagrees with. “Government only works when people stop being so righteous and find ways to fix things.”
Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., said he’s sure he’ll be disappointed in the low level of funding for a range medical research.
“But let’s come back and tackle these issues,” Walz said. “I don’t think it should be that hard.”