Calling next week's Senate roll call to defund Planned Parenthood a "legislative show vote," GOP firebrand Ted Cruz said Republicans should do everything they can to eliminate federal money for the group — even if it means a government shutdown fight this fall. He's not alone. On Wednesday afternoon, 18 House Republicans told leadership that they "cannot and will not support any funding resolution ... that contains any funding for Planned Parenthood." Meanwhile, GOP social conservatives like Sens. James Lankford of Oklahoma and Jeff Sessions of Alabama said they'd consider supporting an effort to attach a spending rider that would eliminate Planned Parenthood's $528 million in annual government funding to must-pass spending legislation this fall.
In April 2011, the newly elected House Republican majority was ready, if not eager, to shut down the government. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), just three months into his tenure, told the White House that without some spending cuts, GOP lawmakers simply would not keep the government's lights on.
There was a flurry of meetings, and both sides worked out a deal for some modest cuts. But then Boehner went back to Democrats with a fresh demand: Republicans wanted to cut Planned Parenthood, too.
President Obama refused, Boehner backed down, and the matter was resolved, but more than four years later, the demand has made a comeback. Politico published this report overnight.
It's probably worth noting that Politico's headline, "How Planned Parenthood could shut down the government," paints a picture that's slightly askew -- the health care organization itself wouldn't cause a shutdown; Republicans' opposition would.
Conservative media is likely to be on board with the plan. Last night, Erick Erickson, a prominent far-right voice in Republican media, published an angry missive under the headline, "Shut Down The Government. Now." He wrote, "If Barack Obama is willing to risk a government shutdown because he demands our tax dollars continue funding an organization that kills our children and sells their organs, we should have that fight."
Looking ahead, there are a few relevant angles to this. The first is that the Senate is planning to take up a bill, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is rushing to the floor, to cut off Planned Parenthood funding immediately. Members are likely to vote on this next week, and the fight risks splitting Republicans.
Second, Cruz and others are already looking past this bill -- it will not become law -- and gearing up for the more meaningful fight in September over funding the government overall. The end of the fiscal year is Oct. 1, and the appropriations process has already been derailed by a fight over, of all things, Confederate flags. We're now looking at a far more difficult dispute in which many GOP lawmakers are effectively saying, "We're prepared to shut down the government if Planned Parenthood gets one penny in funding."
The White House is highly unlikely to satisfy these demands, which increases the odds of yet another Republican shutdown.
All of which brings us to the third angle: the edited videos slowly being released by a right-wing activist group, which is fueling the Republican campaign against the health care organization. To date, none of the videos offer any evidence of Planned Parenthood breaking any laws, but the reminder that fetal-tissue research exists has apparently renewed the GOP's interest in targeting the group.
So what we're left with is an interesting political dynamic. On the one hand we see Republican leaders who don't want a shutdown and don't want another fight in which their party tries to take away women's access to health care services. These leaders know that taxpayer funding for abortion is already illegal, which makes this largely a fight over contraception, cancer screenings, STIs, and family planning services.
On the other hand we see rank-and-file Republicans, enraged by misleading videos that point to nothing illegal, who have a new excuse to go after a health care organization the right doesn't like anyway, despite Planned Parenthood's history of bipartisan support. For them, another GOP government shutdown is a small price to pay for the culture war.
Which side will prevail? Watch this space.
Disclosure: My wife works at Planned Parenthood, but she played no role in this piece and her work is unrelated to the controversial videos.