Debate is now over what the debate is over

As the clock ticks closer to a government shutdown, the debate has devolved to a point where the two parties can't even agree on what the primary hurdle is, let alone how to clear it.

In back-to-back press conferences Friday afternoon, House Democrats and Republicans took shots across the aisle, with each side accusing the other of holding up the 2011 spending bill and threatening a government shutdown.

ADVERTISEMENT
The Democrats are focusing on a GOP policy rider that would affect federal funding for family planning, charging Republicans with using the budget battle to wage a "war on women."

"It is an assault on women and it must be resisted with all our might," Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) said.

House Republicans, meanwhile, dispute the notion that the sticking point is the Planned Parenthood rider, insisting instead that the current battle is over just one thing: cutting spending.

"Democrats," said Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), "are trying to characterize, or mischaracterize, these discussions as about women's health. They are not about women's health, it is about economic health."

In February, House Republicans passed legislation (H.R. 1) cutting spending by $61 billion before October. The proposal eliminated the Title X program, which offers reproductive and preventive care, largely to low-income women. It also barred all federal funding to Planned Parenthood, which currently receives roughly a quarter of all Title X funds.

In terms of spending cuts, Democrats have come more than halfway toward the GOP proposal, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reportedly offering $38 billion in cuts this week. Conservative Republicans, however, say that's not nearly enough to rein in the nation's deficit spending.

"The Senate needs to pass H.R. 1," said Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.). "It needs to do it today."

Pressured from the right, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who's leading the negotiations on behalf of Republicans, has so far rejected Democratic offers. Boehner said Friday that he simply wants to cut as much federal spending as he possibly can this year. The policy riders, he insisted, are all but resolved, and don't represent the major impediment to a deal.

"There's only one reason that we do not have an agreement as yet, and that issue is spending," Boehner said at a short press conference.

Democrats, though, are claiming otherwise.

"It's a lie," said Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.). "It's not about the dollars, it's about the ideology."

Democrats say the Republicans are using the budget battle — and more specifically, the threat of a government shutdown — to attack Planned Parenthood because it offers abortion services. Democrats in both chambers said Friday that they'll oppose any spending deal that scales back funding for women's healthcare.

"No way, no how, no chance," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). "Women will not be sacrificed for the extreme Republican agenda."

Meanwhile, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been reluctant to say whether they'll support a spending bill if the Planned Parenthood rider is stripped out.

"I don't know the contents of that agreement," said Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) echoed that message Friday. "It's a hypothetical at this point," Blackburn said. "We're going to wait to see what comes back."