Opinion

Speaker Ryan uses Constitution to preemptively surrender on defunding Planned Parenthood

We’re just a few days into Paul Ryan’s hotly-anticipated tenure as Speaker of the House, and unfortunately he’s already signaling that pro-lifers shouldn’t expect leadership much different from John Boehner’s.

On Sunday, he appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union,” where he told Dana Bash that while Planned Parenthood shouldn’t “get a red cent from the taxpayer” and their crimes captured on video are “disgusting,” defunding the abortion giant isn’t in the cards…

I think we need to be very clear about what we can and cannot achieve and not set expectations that we know we can’t reach given the constraints of the Constitution […] This is what I mean when I say being an effective opposition party. I think being an effective opposition party means being honest with people upfront about what it is we can and cannot achieve […] We have a President that isn’t willing to listen, that isn’t going to sign lots of our bills into law, we have a Senate that has a very difficult process when it comes to actually getting bills voted on, so knowing that we have those constraints, we have to operate within those constraints.

The “constraints of the Constitution”? There’s nothing in the Constitution that says Congress has to send the President funding for things they don’t want to fund. To the contrary—under Article I, Section 9, it’s Congress’s prerogative to decide how to appropriate money, a provision Father of the Constitution James Madison said was there for the express purpose of tying the president’s hands:

The House of Representatives cannot only refuse, but they alone can propose, the supplies requisite for the support of government. They, in a word, hold the purse that powerful instrument by which we behold, in the history of the British Constitution, an infant and humble representation of the people gradually enlarging the sphere of its activity and importance, and finally reducing, as far as it seems to have wished, all the overgrown prerogatives of the other branches of the government.

Nor does the Constitution say that all government spending has to be decided on in a single bundle, with disagreement over one area jeopardizing the funding for all of government’s other functions. This is solely a question of whether the congressional majority has the political willpower and communication abilities to make Barack Obama blink in the ensuing media frenzy—to convince the public that he would be the one shutting down the government in the interest of his radical pro-abortion allies.

It was bad enough when Boehner and Mitch McConnell dismissed more serious efforts to defund Planned Parenthood on political feasibility grounds without even considering how to make them feasible. But for Ryan (who has voted on at least two occasions for budgets that include funding for Planned Parenthood) to do so by hiding behind a Constitution that actually gives him legislative tools he’s choosing not to use is—remarkably—a step down from that.

Ryan also threw pro-lifers a bone by talking up the Planned Parenthood investigations:

We’re just beginning to start a committee to investigate Planned Parenthood. That’s important. So the special committee on Planned Parenthood, I think, should be in the driver’s seat overseeing this process.

But therein lies another problem—if you’re going to rest the entirety of Congress’s pro-life credentials on the committee hearings, then at the very least those have to actually be effective. And while so far they’ve produced some valuable moments, for the most part Republican questioners squandered their opportunity by asking Cecile Richards repetitive and insignificant questions about her salary, failing to corner her on her past lies about Planned Parenthood mammogram services, and generally failing to make the moral horror of murdering children the central issue. If the new Speaker has any awareness of the need to shape up the hearings, he hasn’t yet shown it.

So despite the chorus of predictions that Paul Ryan’s speakership is brimming with promise, “better than we deserve,” the “most conservative” in “recent history,” and a herald of “generational change,” the actual evidence indicates that, for pro-lifers at least, nothing’s changing after all.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

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