The rumored field of 2012 presidential hopefuls is uniting behind a plan to cut all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, aligning them with a group of House conservatives who are insisting that any final budget deal includes a policy rider to defund the organization.
With less than week left for congressional leaders to reach a budget deal and avert a government shutdown, the proposed rider that would end all federal funding for Planned Parenthood remains one of the thorniest issues in the budget standoff.
Some House conservatives, led by Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), have indicated they're unwilling to compromise on it and top Democrats have called it a deal breaker.
The group is circulating new statements of support from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour to Capitol Hill staffers over the weekend as talks toward a budget deal continue.
The SBA List, which has led the charge for funding cuts and is paying for a TV ad campaign, solicited statements from another four rumored GOP hopefuls late this week. In statements provided to SBA List, Palin, Huckabee, Pawlenty and Barbour all advocated eliminating the funding.
"I join Rep. Mike Pence and others of conscience and common sense who are leading the charge to end the taxpayer funding of the nation's largest abortion provider," Palin said in a statement. "We recognize that not only is our country buried under Mt. McKinley-sized debt, but that the truest measure of an society is how it treats those who are least able to defend and speak for themselves."
Huckabee called it a "horrific thought that our government provides funding to an organization that provides abortions to so many women."
"We need to demand this Congress vote to defund Planned Parenthood," he said in a statement. "Our tax dollars should never be used to provide abortions and our government should put an end to it immediately."
In his statement, Pawlenty alluded to videos filmed by an anti-abortion group which have been the subject of recent controversy. Their accuracy has been disputed by Planned Parenthood.
"Washington has a massive spending problem, and we need to set priorities," Pawlenty said. "Recent undercover videos show that employees of America's largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, aided alleged human traffickers wishing to exploit young girls. Yet, they continue to receive significant taxpayer funding. That should come to an end."
In response, a Planned Parenthood spokesman called the proposal to defund the organization "far out of the mainstream," highlighting opposition from Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
"The proposal would not reduce the deficit by a dime, yet many of the women it affects would lose access to birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, and testing for HIV," Planned Parenthood said in a statement. "The secret videos targeting Planned Parentood have been widely discredited. They are part of a dirty-tricks campaign that uses edited videotape to distort the truth and mislead the public."
Another four potential Republican hopefuls are already on the record supporting the funding cuts: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and talk radio host Herman Cain.
SBA List reached out to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for a statement on the defunding proposal, but has not yet received a response.
The policy rider to the fiscal 2011 budget bill that would defund the group is one of two that top Democrats have said in recent days they won't accept as part of any final budget. Earlier this week, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the controversial riders attached to the House spending bill a deal breaker.
"The bottom line is that whether it's Planned Parenthood or EPA, we will not accept those riders," Schumer said in an interview on MSNBC.
On Thursday, Pence rallied Tea Party activists outside the U.S. capitol and urged House Republicans to stand firm on plans to defund the organization. In a radio interview with Sean Hannity on Friday, Pence again signaled his willingness to stare down Democrats, who he said were angling for a government shutdown.
"If the liberals in the Senate want to play political games and shut down the government instead of making a payment on fiscal discipline," Pence said, "I say shut it down."
-Updated at 3:54 p.m.