“Everybody knows [it] is a gesture in futility,” said Harry Reid, the former Senate Leader.
It’s “a victory worth fighting for,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List.
They were both talking about the bill to repeal Obamacare that was passed by the U.S. Senate Thursday night—with language to prohibit Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid reimbursement snugly tucked inside of it.
A month ago, it seemed it would be impossible to get a Senate vote on defunding PP, because any measure would have required 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. But last night the vote was 52-47.
What changed in between?
The House already had passed a bill to redirect most of the federal funding that goes to Planned Parenthood to women’s healthcare facilities that don’t perform abortions—and on Tuesday, the Senate Parliamentarian deemed the provision germane to the reconciliation package.
Pro-life groups had been working for weeks. In November, a coalition of 30 organizations had sent a letter to Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Whip John Cornyn expressing the united pro-life community’s “desire to see the reconciliation bill remove funding for abortion providers” to support “efforts to improve the Obamacare repeal provisions.”
Just having a vote to defund Planned Parenthood is a big fat deal (to paraphrase Vice-President Biden’s comment when Obamacare was passed).
Yes, of course, the President will veto the attempt to repeal his namesake legacy program.
True, the Senate does not have the votes to override the veto (though there’s something to be said for attempting it).
Even so, this vote is a cause for rejoicing, for both an obscure reason and a public one.
First point: Precedent. Remember Tevye exultantly singing “tradition!” from the housetop in Fiddler on the Roof? Today the operative word is “Precedent!” Let true pro-lifers sing “Precedent!” with the same enthusiasm today.
Senate rules are obscure even to most people who work in the Senate. This time, they were interpreted in a way that allowed a vote on defunding Planned Parenthood as part of a budget reconciliation bill. This creates a precedent that can be used again. Never underestimate the importance of the Parliamentarian.
Second point: Elections have consequences.
The pro-life party is the Senate majority today. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is the Majority Leader, who, by the way—along with the whole leadership team and their staffs—deserves huge credit for yesterday’s vote.
In 2013, Harry Reid (D-NV) was the Majority Leader. No way, no how would he ever have allowed a vote to defund Planned Parenthood.
What changed? A lot of citizens voted in 2014 and the majority of the U.S. Senate became Republican.
In yesterday’s vote-a-rama, some Republicans defected on other votes. Not every Republican is on board with that coalition of 30 pro-life organizations.
Pro-lifers cannot rest on their laurels. This vote has proved we can do it. But the Senate could shift again after next year’s election.
In less than a year, 24 Republicans and 10 Democrats are up for re-election in the Senate. Citizens again will have to decide whether their vote matters. They will be wondering what politician they can believe. That’s where the vote yesterday will again be helpful: It will get some politicians on record. When politicians lack real conviction on an issue, they will say what they think the voters want to hear. But when it is time to cast a vote, their constituents will know whether or not the politician is sincere.
Case in point: Senator Bob Casey, Jr. (D-Pa) likes to drape himself in the mantle of his late father, Governor Bob Casey, Sr., who was so pro-life the Democrat National Committee would not allow him to speak at its convention.
But Bob Casey, Jr. voted yesterday to strip the Planned Parenthood defunding language, and to spend $1 billion on “women’s health clinic security.”
Bob Casey, Jr. likes Planned Parenthood, in other words. Despite his name and the perception he tries to create in the minds of Pennsylvania pro-life voters.
Veto or no, the vote yesterday flushed out pretenders while confirming the pro-life bona fides of the Republican Party.
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Connie Marshner is a commentator and researcher on life and family issues in the Washington, D.C., area.