The Senate Voted To Defund Planned Parenthood — What Now?

Photo: Andy Katz/ Pacific Press/ LightRocket/ Getty Images.
By now you’ve probably heard that on Thursday, for the first time, Congress finally voted to defund Planned Parenthood. If you utterly freaked out at the news, it’s completely understandable. But you can breathe easy — Planned Parenthood will be just fine.

The vote didn’t just eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood; it also cut the legs out from under the Affordable Care Act. The bill, H.R. 3762, removes the funds for investment in public health programs, meaning an end to the tax credits that subsidize the cost of health insurance. It also reduces the number of employers required to provide healthcare benefits and repeals the expansion of Medicaid.

When it comes to Planned Parenthood, the bill bans federal funds for an entity that “is an essential community provider primarily engaged in family planning services and reproductive health”— and it specifically calls out Planned Parenthood.

While the news made our feminist hearts start pounding at first, it’s actually not as dire as it seems. Yesterday’s vote was another GOP attempt to overthrow Obamacare and push back the clock on women’s access to reproductive health. Here’s what’s really going on with the vote, and why it won’t actually have much effect.

Under normal circumstances, the vote wouldn’t pass.
Because of legislative procedures, a bill in the Senate usually requires 60 votes to pass. With less than 60, senators opposed to legislation can filibuster it, preventing a vote indefinitely. Although Republicans now have the majority in both the Senate and the House, they hold only 54 seats — not enough to beat back a challenge.

In fact, last night’s vote took place under special circumstances known as a budget reconciliation. This procedure, specifically designed to force lawmakers’ hands at passing changes, forbids a filibuster and allows a vote to pass on a simple majority. Republicans were able to prevail with a slim majority of 52-47, one single vote past the magic number. (Sen. Bernie Sanders, running for president as a Democratic candidate, did not vote.) If the vote had played out in a normal fashion, it wouldn’t have passed. If legislators try to pass it again, it's unlikely to succeed.

Obama will veto the bill.
The Affordable Care Act is President Obama’s signature legislation, and there’s no chance of him allowing it to be dismantled. The moment the bill hits his desk, Obama will veto it, and even though Republicans are the majority in both houses of Congress, they don’t have the two-thirds majority they would need to override a Presidential veto.

They're probably counting on it. Many of the Republicans who voted on the bill are stuck in an untenable position — their constituents have benefitted from the Medicaid expansions and healthcare subsidies that Obamacare has provided, and taxpayers who have gotten easier access to health care are reluctant to give it up. In Arkansas, which is represented by two Republican senators, more than 260,000 people have received health care through Medicaid thanks to program expansions, and 88% of the state is eligible for an average tax credit of nearly $300 to help offset the cost of health care. Both senators voted to repeal the ACA and its Medicaid expansion.

Passing the vote with the assurance that Obama will veto it allows Republicans to play both sides at once. Conservative legislators can appear to challenge Obama and his “socialist” policies while allowing their constituents to continue to benefit from those very same policies. Moreover, it allows them to once again frame Obama as the villain in the narrative when he inevitably rejects the bill, which sounds good to conservative voters.

So what now?
It’s certainly not good news that the bill made it as far as Obama’s desk. Though the GOP has continuously looked for any excuse to chip away at women’s health care and the ACA, the laws usually get blocked in the Senate. So there is still cause for concern.

But is it the end of Planned Parenthood? Not by a long shot. A press release from the organization contained a statement by Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens: “In spite of these political attacks, we’re focused on providing high-quality, compassionate health care to people all across this country,” it read in part. “We won’t be deterred by violence, smear campaigns, or cynical political attacks like this.”

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