Is This Really All About Abortion?

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This morning Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called the networks together and gave them an update on the negotiations (as I type this Reid is starting another press conference in the Senate). He said the issues have narrowed to one: abortion. Reid said House Speaker John Boehner is pushing a rider that would make Title X into block grants, thus enabling governors to do as they wish with the money. Most conservative governors would immediately defund Planned Parenthood. The group doesn’t use federal money to provide abortions — the federal money goes to mammograms, contraceptives and family planning for mostly poor women. But conservatives have never liked Planned Parenthood, which does, separately, provide abortion services.

Boehner’s office, meanwhile, issued a statement insisting that the riders were not the central hitching point to the negotiations. “While nothing will be decided until everything is decided, the largest issue is still spending cuts,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel. “The American people want to cut spending to help the private sector create jobs — and the Democrats that run Washington don’t.”

Reid was asked by CNN’s Brianna Keilar if he’d offered Boehner more money to drop the Title X rider. He said he had, but that Boehner had turned him down. This surprises me as I’ve always been under the impression that Boehner was using the policy riders as leverage for more cuts — that he never really expected to move the needle on abortion, climate change or health care reform. The brouhaha over the riders must be taken with a grain of salt as it behooves Dems to portray Boehner as obsessed with “extreme” riders rather than negotiating in good faith on funding the government. Given that even Michele Bachmann called on Boehner to drop the riders and just pass a “clean” one week extension to give negotiators more time*, I’d be surprised if the only issue at play here is truly Title X.

*Bachmann voiced support for passing a no-rider bill that would insure that military paychecks continue in the event of a government shutdown. Her office made clear Friday that she does not support stripping riders that deal with abortion from the main 2011 continuing resolution bill that is now being negotiated by Boehner, Reid and Barack Obama.