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Congress Can and Should Still Defund Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest abortion provider and harvests and sells baby parts. Federal funding for Planned Parenthood should stop. Congress can and should defund Planned Parenthood in the pending “Omnibus” spending bill.

Rather than confront Harry Reid and President Obama, some Republicans in Congress have asserted that defunding Planned Parenthood is impossible. In October, I asked the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) to examine Congress’ ability to defund Planned Parenthood. The CRS report unequivocally shows that Congress can indeed stop federal funding to Planned Parenthood and its affiliates should it chose to do so. It’s a question of will and commitment to principle.

Federal spending falls into three categories: discretionary, mandatory, and interest payments on the national debt. The vast majority of federal funding for Planned Parenthood comes from Medicaid reimbursements (mandatory spending) and grants authorized by Title X of the Public Health Service Act (discretionary spending).

Congress sets discretionary spending annually by passing twelve appropriations bills covering everything from national defense to education to transportation.

Mandatory spending funds entitlement programs – notably Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. If you qualify for the programs, then you receive the money. There is no annual appropriation. Some Republicans in Congress incorrectly contend that mandatory spending is on “autopilot” and cannot be changed in appropriations bills. That’s true for Medicare and Social Security, but not Medicaid. Medicaid is an “appropriated entitlement” which does not bypass the annual appropriations process: the level of Medicaid spending is determined by statute, but funding is provided through the annual appropriations bills. As CRS explains:

The fact that Medicaid is subject to the annual appropriations process provides an opportunity for Congress to place funding limitations on specified activities in Medicaid, including the circumstances under which federal funds can be used to pay for abortions.

Medicaid is not on autopilot: Congress can and does direct and limit Medicaid funding through annual appropriations bills, including spending bills like the pending Omnibus. In fact, Congress has banned Medicaid funding for abortion by attaching the so-called Hyde Amendment to annual appropriations bills for forty years.

Title X grants are “discretionary” spending. Congress can use limitation provisions to restrict funding for specific purposes, even when the spending is authorized. The CRS report I requested confirmed: “Limitations are allowable under the rules of the House and Senate under the principle that while Congress may authorize an activity, it is under no obligation to fund it.”

In the Federalist papers, James Madison described Congress’s constitutional control over all federal spending – the power over the purse – as “the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.” It is clear that Congress can use the appropriations process to stop the flow of federal funding to Planned Parenthood and its affiliates by attaching a simple provision to the Omnibus.

The question is: why won’t Republicans in Congress use the power over the purse – this “most complete and effectual weapon” – to defund America’s number one abortion provider and trafficker of baby parts? The unfortunate answer is that they are unwilling to face down Senate Democrats and President Obama, who will block or veto any Omnibus with defunding language attached. Obama and the Democrats are willing to shut down the government to keep taxpayer money flowing into Planned Parenthood.

Republicans should remember that we have the majority in both chambers. It’s time for Republicans to exercise the power of the purse, defund Planned Parenthood, and let Harry Reid and President Obama tell the American people they are willing to shut down the government to compel our constituents to pay for an abortion mill.

Congressman Jim Bridenstine, a Republican, represents Oklahoma’s First District. Rep. Bridenstine is a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and currently serving National Guardsman.

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