Not another shutdown

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell conceded that Republicans in Congress don't have the votes to defund Planned Parenthood and that the issue will have to wait at least until 2017 when there's a new administration in the White House. Yet with the deadline to pass a federal budget less than three weeks away, few in Washington are confident that a government shutdown — perhaps because of a Planned Parenthood funding impasse — will be averted.

Granted, returning members of Congress know they probably can't approve the 12 spending bills that would constitute a full budget, particularly with the debate over the Iran nuclear agreement taking up a big chunk of the legislative calendar. But they do have an opportunity to pass a continuing resolution, which has become the customary stopgap — except for the potential stumbling block of a Planned Parenthood dispute, which looms large, not because the GOP might get what it wants but because the defunding advocates seem unconcerned about the consequences of a government shutdown and might even embrace it.


Already, at least 28 House Republicans have signed a letter promising to do whatever is necessary to "fully defund Planned Parenthood" and promising to oppose any resolution or appropriation bill that does not accomplish this objective. And a majority of Republicans in the Senate have already demonstrated a desire to defund the organization, too, but not enough to overcome a filibuster by Democrats. Still, is that likely to hold back someone who thinks a government shutdown in the name of a lost cause is perfectly fine, like Sen. Ted Cruz, particularly when he's running for president?

Make no mistake, this whole kerfuffle is a bunch of nonsense and mostly about a heavily-edited undercover video that shows employees of Planned Parenthood speaking rather insensitively about the remains of aborted fetuses that are provided to medical researchers. The allegations that Planned Parenthood profits from this have proven untrue, and stripping the organization of a half-billion dollars or so in federal funding would mostly cost poor people access to birth control and other women's health services.


How crazy is the anti-Planned Parenthood push? Take away the organization's funding and you increase the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country, which means more, not fewer, abortions. So the budget fight comes down to this: A desire to shut down government and further sully the GOP brand (which is exactly what past shutdowns and threatened shutdowns have done) to pave the way for the abortions the perpetrators claim to despise.

Maryland has a bigger stake than most in this fight. We are home to about 300,000 federal employees, or 10 percent of the state's workforce, but the impact of a shutdown with its furloughs and missed paychecks extends to government contractors and many others in proximity of the Capital Beltway. The 2013 disruption proved costly to this state's economy, reducing Maryland's job growth to among the worst in the country. The same would happen again — unless some kind of stopgap resolution is approved.

Surely, voters everywhere are tired of this brinkmanship. Even the Wall Street Journal, not exactly a bastion of liberalism, counseled against a shutdown, suggesting it would cost the party its shot at the White House next year and perhaps its majority in the Senate. "Mr. Cruz in particular knows Congress can't win a shutdown showdown with Mr. Obama. His purpose is to pose as a relentless fighter so he can ride frustrated GOP voters to the presidential nomination. Swing-state Senators are a tolerable collateral damage," the Journal noted in its Wednesday edition.

Making the impasse even more frustrating is that Congress has the means to meet its budgetary goals, perhaps even to pass a multi-year transportation spending plan. Bipartisan support for corporate tax reform, especially recapturing more than $1 trillion in off-shore profits of U.S. companies that have moved their headquarters to other countries, offers a real opportunity for compromise. All that's needed is a willingness to act rationally and in the best interest of the country. Yet after what can only be described as a National Summer of Discontent when GOP candidates for president have found success (or at least notoriety) in expressing outrage and vitriol, the louder the better, logic and reasonableness might be too much to expect between now and Sept. 30.