Budget Talks: “We’re Not Going to Throw Women Under The Bus.”

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Almost all female Democratic Senators filed into a press gallery, at high noon on the Hill, to articulate their response to the current stalemate on budget talks. Washington Sen. Patty Murray summed up their bottom line: “We know we have to keep the government open … but we’re not going to throw women under the bus.”

Nine senators — Washington’s Maria Cantwell, California’s Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand, North Carolina’s Kay Hagan, Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar, Maryland’s Barbara Mikulski, Murray and Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow — each took a turn at the microphone. They all seemed pretty angry — on the verge of tears in one case — to be there.

Murray opened by explaining that they were there to “express extreme anger and disappointment,” and the women continued to take hard lines left and right — from Feinstein saying the ladies were ready to “really sock it to ’em” to Klobuchar’s tearful objection at “standing here over politics” instead of dealing with flooding in her home state. Mikulski, who stood on a stool as she stepped to the podium, spoke with more fire and conviction than her peers. She called the Republicans’ funding hang-up the equivalent of a “radical agenda against women.” She railed against the timing of this social-issue debate, saying Republicans had failed to have serious, relevant talks they had promised.  “If you can find an adult over there, I’m happy to meet with him,” she said.

They presented the stalemate like this: The budget talks should be about fiscal policy, not about social policy. House Republicans’ refusal to budge on the open item that gives funding to Planned Parenthood isn’t a legitimate reason to shut the government down; Republicans are using women’s health care as nothing more than a sacrificial red herring. The women implied that they felt goaded by the other side into defending a dear issue, which they saw as a cheap distraction tactic, one meant simply to play to the other side’s social conservative supporters.

The women also emphasized the full impact of holding the funding hostage. Yes, they said, the money is partly for Planned Parenthood, and yes, that organization does provide abortions, but not with federal subsidies. Boxer was full of compelling statistics: About 75% of the funding goes to other health clinics, and 90% of Planned Parenthood’s funding is for preventive care like STD screenings and breast exams. So while the abortion issue is certainly related, Boxer said, dealing with it through a budget rider is a very indirect attack with a lot of collateral damage.