Shut down the threat of foolish shutdown

Mitch McConnell, John Boehner want to prevent a shutdown.
Mitch McConnell, John Boehner want to prevent a shutdown. AP

Members of Congress who oppose Planned Parenthood are prepared to shut down the government on Oct. 1 rather than fund the women’s healthcare organization. As mistakes go, this is a classic three-fer: wrong on the politics, wrong on the numbers, wrong on the substance.

Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner oppose a repeat of the kamikaze tactics that led to the 2013 shutdown over the Affordable Care Act. But an uprising against Mr. Boehner by conservative Republicans in the House managed to cut off Planned Parenthood funding for a year unless its affiliates and clinics stop performing abortions. And they vow to reject any budget unless they get their way.

POLITICS: A repeat of the 2013 shutdown crisis that ultimately failed to affect legislation would once more give the GOP a political black eye and a legislative defeat. A bipartisan compromise, on the other hand, allows Planned Parenthood — which gets no federal money for abortions — to go about its business of providing healthcare for millions of women.

A shutdown would destroy efforts by the GOP leadership to show that Republicans can govern effectively and responsibly. In 2013, public opinion forced hardliners to cave in after 16 days. Why go through all that melodrama again only to fail once more?

THE NUMBERS: Some argue that cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood would save the government money. On Tuesday, the Congressional Budget Office said any temporary savings would prove to be illusory because increased unwanted pregnancies would have to be paid for by Medicaid. The report said that “would increase direct spending by $130 million over the 2016-2025 period.”

SUBSTANCE: The real costs will be borne by the 650,000 women, mainly of low income, who would lose access to healthcare and family planning, according to the CBO report.

Unfortunately, the argument against Planned Parenthood has been fueled by misstatements and half-truths on the part of presidential candidates.

Jeb Bush last month cited federal funding for Planned Parenthood, saying, “I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues.” When challenged, his campaign later said he “misspoke.”

At last week’s GOP debate, Carly Fiorina voiced a largely inaccurate version of some Planned Parenthood videos circulating on the Internet regarding prices for tissue from aborted fetuses. Later she told an interviewer that she favored giving the money for healthcare and family planning to organizations that “also provide women an alternative to abortion.”

Yet that’s precisely what Planned Parenthood does. That’s what family planning is — avoiding unwanted pregnancies to prevent abortions. The organization gets no federal money for abortions because U.S. law prohibits spending public funds for that purpose. Shutting down the government does not advance the pro-life agenda.

To appease conservatives in his caucus, Sen. McConnell has scheduled a procedural vote for Thursday on the cutoff. It is widely expected to fail, as it should, opening the way for a stopgap spending bill that keeps funding at the same level.

At that point, Republicans will have to make a choice between partisan politics and effective governing.

Mr. Boehner must take control of his caucus to keep funding at the same level or partner with Democrats, only two of whom voted for the cutoff, if he wants to make good on promises to keep the government open.

Sometimes, governing responsibly means accepting bipartisan solutions and rejecting grandstanding.