One of the contentious points in President Obama’s $825 billion stimulus plan has been the $200 million allocated for expanding birth control coverage under Medicaid.
“How can you spend hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives?” Republican Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio said on Friday. “How does that stimulate the economy?”
Alas, Obama today headed to Capitol Hill to try to build bipartisan support for the stimulus plan, after requesting Democrats cut the provision to expand family planning for low-income people.
Whether this concession will be enough for Republicans remains to be seen — as does the potential fallout over Obama backing away from necessary funding for family planning.
First of all, assisting states with their Medicaid programs is a proven and effective strategy for stimulating the economy in times of economic distress. That’s why the stimulus package contains $87 billion to help states with Medicaid costs. One can only assume that Rep. Boehner’s singling out for criticism the Medicaid spending for contraception is politically motivated.
Not only is it politically motivated, it is highly ironic coming from a self-described fiscal conservative who repeatedly says the stimulus package should include spending that doesn’t increase the deficit. When the Congressional Budget Office assessed a virtually identical provision in 2007, it found that it would save the federal government $200 million over five years by helping women voluntarily avoid pregnancies that otherwise would result in Medicaid-funded births. An expansion such as the one permitted by the stimulus package could save Rep. Boehner’s state of Ohio $1.4 million in 2009 – money that could make a real difference in a hard-hit state that is struggling with significant budget shortfalls.
Coming from a member who is adamantly antiabortion, Rep. Boehner’s opposition is doubly ironic, since publicly funded family planning services significantly reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions that occur.
You can read more analysis at Think Progress, which also quotes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defending the spending on ABC’s “This Week.”
Plus: The National Women’s Law Center is urging support for the stimulus plan and has created an action alert so you can urge your Representative to vote “YES” on the bill.