Centrist senators don’t want to talk about Planned Parenthood

Centrist senators don’t want to talk about something that is extremely important to both liberals and conservatives in the ongoing budget battle: government funding for Planned Parenthood.

The hot-button issue is one of the biggest hurdles standing in the way of any bipartisan deal on a spending bill that would fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year.

With exceptions, centrists in the upper chamber have been reluctant to support or condemn an amendment that would bar taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood.

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All Republican senators recently voted in favor of a House-passed appropriations bill, which includes the Planned Parenthood language sponsored by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.). A few of them noted they didn’t agree with all of the amendments attached to the measure, which calls for $61 billion in cuts and failed to pass the in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last week said the Planned Parenthood measure is a deal breaker, vowing that it won’t be included in the final House-Senate package.

On March 11, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) was the first GOP senator to publicly oppose cuts to Planned Parenthood.

“I believe Planned Parenthood provides vital services to those in need and disagree with their funding cuts in the bill. I ask you to consider these programs going forward to determine if there is room for allowing continued funding,” Murkowski wrote in a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.).

In a statement earlier this week, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) said, “I support family planning and health services for women. Given our severe budget problems, I don’t believe any area of the budget is completely immune from cuts. However, the proposal to eliminate all funding for family planning goes too far. As we continue with our budget negotiations, I hope we can find a compromise that is reasonable and appropriate.”

But days later, some are claiming Brown was referring to Title X family planning program, not Planned Parenthood specifically. The House-passed measure calls for eliminating funding for all of Title X, which does not pay for abortions. Title X last year was allocated $317 million, and $75 million of those funds went to Planned Parenthood affiliates.

Planned Parenthood provides contraception, HIV testing, health services and abortions at its more than 800 clinics around the country.

Brown’s office declined to elaborate on the senator’s statement.

Meanwhile, many Democrats are keeping their positions close to the vest, including several up for reelection next year.

A rundown of centrist senators’ positions on Planned Parenthood follows:

Susan Collins (R-Maine): Kevin Kelley, Collins’ communications director, said, “Sen. Collins is a long-time supporter of women’s health and family planning programs, and she believes the House’s decision to completely eliminate all funding is unwise.

“These programs have successfully reduced the number of unplanned pregnancies, therefore helping to reduce abortions and health care costs. Sen. Collins believes that it is critical that Congress rein in excessive spending, and that there are wasteful federal programs that could legitimately be cut or even eliminated, but these decisions should be made carefully, fully taking into account the benefits of each program and the potential consequences of elimination.”

Olympia Snowe (R-Maine)*: “While confronting our serious economic challenges and fiscal realities will require difficult decisions to reach more sustainable levels of government spending, the outright elimination of funding for Planned Parenthood and Title X is a step too far and would have a significant impact on access to the preventive services and screenings that have benefited millions of women nationwide. ” 

Mark Kirk (R-Ill.): Kirk has always supported Planned Parenthood and family planning efforts.

Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska): She was the first GOP senator to publicly oppose cuts to Planned Parenthood on March 11.

Scott Brown (R-Mass.)*:  “I support family planning and health services for women. Given our severe budget problems, I don't believe any area of the budget is completely immune from cuts. However, the proposal to eliminate all funding for family planning goes too far. As we continue with our budget negotiations, I hope we can find a compromise that is reasonable and appropriate.” 

Bob Casey (D-Pa.)*: Casey, who opposes abortion rights, supports federal funding for contraception and women’s healthcare and has indicated that he would vote against the Planned Parenthood cuts if they should come up for a vote in the Senate.

Ben Nelson (D-Neb.)*: His office declined to speculate, noting it’s unclear if the amendment will be in the final measure.

Jim Webb (D-Va.): Webb Press Secretary Will Jenkins said, “He has not indicated how he would vote on the various budget proposals.”

Jon Tester (D-Mont.)*: Declined to comment.

Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)*: Declined to comment.

Kent Conrad (D-N.D.): Declined to comment.

* Up for reelection in 2012.