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Planned Parenthood: deal-breaker or trump card in government-shutdown talks?

Media reports suggest that Republicans will not agree to a spending deal to avoid a government shutdown unless Planned Parenthood, which performs abortions, is defunded. But that stance could also be used as a GOP bargaining chip.

By Staff writer / April 8, 2011

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) of Maryland joins fellow Democratic senators (l. to r.) Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Maria Cantwell of Washington, and Dianne Feinstein of California as she makes remarks on Capitol Hill Friday condemning Republican attempts to introduce women's health issues like Planned Parenthood and abortions into the negotiations to avoid a government shutdown.

Mike Theiler/Reuters

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Washington

During the 2010 campaign, Republicans went to town on the argument that President Obama was not sufficiently focused on jobs, jobs, jobs. He was consumed by the lengthy process of passing health-care reform, fiddling while Rome burned.

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Now, it seems, the table has turned. The Republicans control the House, thanks to the energies of the anti-tax, small-government tea party movement. And it’s those tea party-backed congressmen and women, in particular, who are strongly urging House Speaker John Boehner to hang tough and risk a government shutdown at midnight Friday in the name of budget cuts.

But according to Democrats, it’s abortion that has emerged as a final sticking point in budget talks – namely, the federal subsidy of Planned Parenthood, whose clinics do provide abortions (though not with federal money).

So suddenly, at least in the eyes of congressional Democrats, the budget is being held hostage over the abortion issue. Republicans maintain the two parties still have not agreed on a final number for budget cuts. But the Democratic argument has gotten wide play in the media, creating the appearance that the central economic argument behind the budget showdown has been hijacked by one of the most intractable social issues of our time.

Have the Republicans misplayed their hand – inflaming a key voting bloc, pro-abortion-rights women? Or have they cleverly used the Planned Parenthood issue as a way to wring ever-higher budget cuts out of the Democrats, before they drop that particular funding cut?

Perhaps both, says Julian Zelizer, a political historian at Princeton University.

“It’s kind of a game,” he says. “Both sides are staring at each other, and I think they’re throwing these things out and using them for different purposes.”

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