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McSally Breaks From GOP On Planned Parenthood Funding

Parting ways with other congressional Republicans, Rep. Martha McSally said Wednesday that Congress should not shut down the government over funding for Planned Parenthood.

McSally said a shutdown would not only hurt taxpayers but also end up costing a lot more money than keeping the government open. She cited a series of problems that resulted from the last shutdown in 2013.

But McSally told Capitol Media Services the real irony is that even if the government does shutter on Oct. 1, that won't achieve the goal of some of their colleagues to defund Planned Parenthood.

She pointed out the organization gets some of its $500 million a year through the Medicaid program for providing non-abortion health care to women. But Medicaid funding continues even if the government is shut down.

The rest of Planned Parenthood's federal funds come through Title X family planning programs.

Only thing is, those grants went out in April. And McSally said bringing the government to its knees now would have no immediate effect.

"Look, I'm a fighter pilot," said the retired Air Force colonel and former A-10 pilot. "I'm not a kamikaze pilot."

The move puts McSally and 10 other first-term Republicans who share her views at odds with other GOP lawmakers who are refusing to approve a new budget — or even a "continuing resolution" to keep the government operating — until federal funds for Planned Parenthood are removed.

Abortion foes have been having this fight for years. But what has added to the pressure are undercover videos. Some appear to show Planned Parenthood executives and others discussing supplying tissue from aborted fetuses to firms doing medical research; another purports to show Planned Parenthood staffers showing off aborted fetuses to prospective tissue buyers.

Officials from Planned Parenthood Arizona have said they neither harvest nor sell tissue from aborted fetuses. The national organization has said the videos are doctored.

McSally, who narrowly won office last year and likely faces a tough reelection bid, called the videos "nauseating and troubling." But she said there are ways to deal with what they show short of shutting down the government.

"If people have broken the law, they need to be held accountable," she said, what with federal law already making it a crime to sell fetal organs for profit. "If there are loopholes in the law that actually allow some of the alleged things on the video to happen, we should be closing those loopholes."

But McSally said even if funding for Planned Parenthood could be cut off, those are dollars that cannot legally be used for abortions. And she said that has broader implications for her constituents.

"I want to make sure that men and women in my community get access to preventative health care, birth control and what they need in order to prevent unwanted pregnancies," McSally said. "We should not have low-income men and especially women caught in the crossfire as collateral damage, especially when none of this is even achievable."

Cathi Herrod, president of the anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy, doesn't see it that way.

She acknowledged that federal law already prohibits the use of tax dollars for abortions. But Herrod said taxpayers effectively are subsidizing abortions.

"A dollar to Planned Parenthood for Title X family planning certainly frees up another dollar to support their abortion services," Herrod said. And she said there are 183 other community health centers around Arizona that can provide the same services.

Herrod said CAP is not taking a position on whether the government should be shut down over Planned Parenthood funding. But she made robocalls over the weekend to voters in Democrat congressional districts telling them to ask their lawmakers to cut off funding.

The futility of the fight aside, McSally said the experience of two years ago proves shutting down the government would be a mistake.

"The 16-day government shutdown in 2013 cost our economy an estimated $24 billion and stalled the creation of over 100,000 private sector jobs," she and the other 10 lawmakers wrote in a letter to their colleagues.

The letter also cites "unacceptable delays" in life saving medical research and payment of disability claims to veterans. And the shutdown also shuttered national parks to the tune of $500 million in lost revenue while also closing Head Start programs.

"In short, the shutdown not only hurt taxpayers with the loss of important government services," they wrote. "It actually cost more taxpayer money to close the federal government than to keep it open."

The Republican-controlled House already has voted to freeze funding for a year to allow Congress to investigate Planned Parenthood.

But that measure likely is going nowhere given that the Senate may be unable to muster the necessary 60 votes to bring it to the floor for debate. And in any event, the White House has said the president would veto it.

That leaves Republicans with the nuclear option: Shut down the government until the budget is altered to block any dollars from going to Planned Parenthood. But McSally said since that won't happen, bringing the government to a halt makes no sense.

"All we're going to do is repeat what happened in 2013," she said.

Arizona lawmakers made a similar stab at defunding Planned Parenthood in 2012, voting to say that any organization that also provides abortions cannot be a "qualified provider" for Medicaid services. Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, made the same arguments as Herrod, saying any money the government gives Planned Parenthood to pay for other expenses frees up funds for abortions.

But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said federal law allows those enrolled in Medicaid to get the services they need from any qualified provider. The judges said there is no evidence that Planned Parenthood medical staffers are not "qualified."

That decision was upheld last year by the U.S. Supreme Court.