Family Planning Aid is Gone For Good From the Stimulus

January 27, 2009 11:09 a.m.

House Democrats have removed a provision from their stimulus bill that would exempt states from the need to get waivers for covering family planning under Medicaid. The family-planning aid has been the subject of repeated Republican attacks over the past few days, and health care advocates were dismayed by the Democrats’ decision to give in on its removal.

“We are disappointed that the Medicaid Family Planning State Option, a common-sense provision to expand basic health care to millions of women, including many who have lost their jobs in the current economic downturn, was a victim of misleading attacks and partisan politics, and dropped from the economic stimulus bill,” Planned Parenthood for America President Cecile Richards said in a statement today.

But the House’s move didn’t necessarily mean that the family-planning aid is dead. After all, the Senate still has to act and could include the provision in its stimulus bill — right?

Maybe not.On their way into the Senate Democratic lunch meeting today, Russ Feingold (WI) and Debbie Stabenow (MI) both said they were in discussions about the ultimate fate of the Medicaid provision. By mid-afternoon, however, Stabenow told me she would focus on how to attached the family-planning aid to another Senate bill coming down the pike.

“At this point, it’s a decision being made at the leadership level by the Speaker [of the House] and the leader [of the Senate],” Stabenow said. “This is very important … one way or the other, I want to get this done.”

I’m certainly receptive to the argument, relayed by Matt Yglesias and others, that the family-planning provision wasn’t genuinely stimulative, making its removal from the bill a minor decision. And I’m not accusing the Obama team of getting rolled by the Republicans on flaps like this one.

But other aid provisions in the recovery bill, not directly targeted to women’s reproductive freedom, do not create jobs or boost GDP — yet are meeting with less agitation from Republicans and remaining intact.

And it would be nice to see the new administration stand up for a genuinely progressive provision that’s under consideration in the bill. The Nadler/DeFazio amendment, #70 on this list, would be a good start.

Late Update: White House spokesman Robert Gibbs addressed the removal of the Medicaid provision, which occurred at Obama’s request, during today’s press briefing:

The president called Chairman [Henry] Waxman [D-CA] yesterday and said that, while he believed the policy of increased funding for family planning was the right one, that he didn’t believe this bill was the vehicle to make that happen.

As TPM alum Greg Sargent points out, this isn’t the only provision for which the stimulus is being deemed the wrong vehicle.

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