Caving to the Right

03/01/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In a very disappointing move, in response to Republican distortion and hysteria, Congress has dropped from the economic stimulus bill, the Medicaid Family Planning State Option, a common sense proposal to provide basic health care to millions of women. The Republican push to decry necessary spending and just push for more tax cuts in the stimulus bill, led them to go on the warpath on the family planning provision.

While Republicans derided the family provision as having nothing to do with economic stimulus and called it wasteful spending, the truth is a far cry from that.

Here's Rush Limbaugh on the topic: If Speaker Nancy Pelosi Pelosi "wants fewer births, I have the way to do this and it won't require any contraception: You simply put pictures of Nancy every cheap motel room. ... That will keep birthrates down because that picture will keep a lot of things down."

So what does the family planning provision actually do? The Medicaid Family Planning State Option would permit states to expand their Medicaid family planning services, including cancer screenings, providing contraception and other preventive care to low income women and would allow the states to bypass the burdensome Medicaid waiver process. Currently, the onerous waiver application process delays treatment and care and wastes state resources.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that if the provision had been adopted, it would have provided coverage to 2.3 million low income women by 2014. A study by the Guttmacher Institute indicated that this option would help 500,000 women avoid unplanned pregnancy.

So why all the howls of protest from Republicans? Well first, Speaker Nancy Pelosi defended attacks against this proposal by saying that the provision was indeed economic stimulus and would save money. This comment created a firestorm of protest on the right.

While Speaker Pelosi was not particularly eloquent or detailed in defending the proposal, she happens to be right. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that , if adopted, the proposal would save the government over $700 million in reduced costs. Moreover, an economic stimulus package should not just be about tax cuts and job creation. It must, as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said it best, be about 3 things: relief, reform and reconstruction.

The family planning aid fails under the rubric of "relief" for those who are struggling in this dire economy. Close to 50 million Americans lack health care coverage and 40 percent of all Americans have medical debts. Just as the New Deal created jobs and built new insfrastructure and provided relief in the form of aid to those who needed it most, our economic stimulus bill must provide relief on the vital issue of basic health care.

Republicans seized on the family planning issue and quickly used it as a lightening rod to try to scuttle the economic stimulus bill. Luckily the overall legislation has withstood the attacks, but unfortunately millions of low income women who would have benefited from this most basic of health care services have proven to be the victim. And that is a raw deal.