A Big Win for Planned Parenthood

12/20/2015 08:11 pm ET Updated Dec 20, 2016

Little noticed in the deal that Congress approved Friday is the fact that the anti-abortion lobby got wiped out. The deal included no provisions cutting funding for Planned Parenthood -- an issue on which Republicans have been prepared to shut down the government in past budget fights.

Nor did the anti-choice zealots have any success on their other proposed riders intended to reduce reproductive rights. There were proposed cuts in federal spending for sex education, family planning and Planned Parenthood.

Same with efforts to further restrict abortion rights in the name of religious freedom, or international family planning, or attempts to block the government from requiring multi-state plans to include the full range of family planning services.

What happened? First, the Democrats stood fast with reproductive rights groups.

Second, Republicans read the polls -- attacks on Planned Parenthood are political losers. Fully 60 percent of those polled want no cuts in Planned Parenthood's funding.

Third, Speaker Paul Ryan warned his troops that Republicans, going into an election year, could not withstand the bad publicity of being held responsible for another government shutdown. He wanted a deal more than he wanted to appease the far right.

Most importantly, Planned Parenthood, under the inspired leadership of Cecile Richards, demonstrated its skill as one of the nation's most astute political players. Read all about it here.

Abortion rights are still under assault, of course, both literally and in policy terms. The Supreme Court will soon rule on which state restrictions are allowed under Roe v. Wade. But score one big win this week for Planned Parenthood and the reproductive rights movement.

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In theory, a column is about one thing, but here's another thing:

Did you notice that Republicans, despite the fact that easy purchase of assault weapons makes America far more vulnerable to terrorist attacks, continue to take an absolutist view of the Second Amendment? But, over time, this posture is likely to become a political liability. The case for AK-47s as weapons of self-defense looks increasingly absurd.

Then there is the case of open carry laws. Egged on by the NRA, Republicans have promoted the right of citizens to show off and bring their weapons virtually anywhere, including schools, sporting events, bars, hospitals and public buildings, just like gunslingers of the Old West. (Meanwhile, Disney World has prohibited toy guns at its theme parks, as well as real ones, in order to reassure its customers.)

But here is a question to ponder. What will the Republicans do about guns at their upcoming national nominating convention in Cleveland?

Ohio is an open carry state. If Republicans have the courage of their convictions, they should insist on the right of their delegates to come to the convention hall packing heat.

If armed supporters of Donald Trump get into a shootout with allies of Ted Cruz, well, heck, that's just the price we occasionally pay for freedom. And we can see which Survivor is the best sharpshooter.

Well, maybe that's not such a great idea. But if the Republicans -- having imposed armed mayhem on the rest of us -- prudently require their own delegates to check their guns at the door, they are hypocrites. Then again, if they let weapons into their nominating convention, inviting a gunfight at the GOP corral, they are fools.

Hypocrites or fools, take your pick. Maybe both. Perhaps reporters covering the event should pack heat, too.

***

In the holiday spirit of threes -- the Holy Trinity, the Three Wise Men -- here is a third item to ponder.

The Federal Reserve last week made its long awaited move to raise interest rates. The Fed acted, despite the fact that inflation is non-existent and the job market is far softer than it looks, with temporary and part time and contract gigs crowding out real payroll jobs and wages flat.

Why did the Fed make such a dumb move? One oft cited explanation is that "markets expected it." So what did financial markets do once the Fed acted?

After a brief rally, the stock market promptly tanked. On Friday alone, the Dow dropped 357 points, and has fallen steadily since the Fed hiked rates after a brief rally sputtered out.

That should be no surprise. Higher rates push investors out of stocks and into bonds. The surprise is that anyone thought otherwise.

Supposedly, the higher rates were intended as a gift to banks. They could charge more for loans but not pass along all of the higher rates to depositors, thus widening their "spreads", increasing their profits, and strengthening their balance sheets.

But, funny thing, bank stocks tanked, too. Someone must have noticed that a softening economy -- the result of a premature rate hike -- isn't even great for bankers.

What should the Fed do? First, it should do no further harm and leave rates alone, or maybe think about lowering them.

Second, it should heed the advice of Lord Adair Turner, former chair of the British Financial Services Authority. Lord Turner proposes that the Fed, rather than just pumping money into banks (which fail to put it out into the real economy but invest in Treasury debt and underwrite speculation) could give money directly to citizens.

The Fed might "pay $1,000 to all citizens by electronic transfer to their commercial bank deposit accounts," he writes in his new book, Between Debt and the Devil. Good idea! The Fed could also invest directly in such things as infrastructure bonds, and underwrite a re-financing of the debt that is strangling Puerto Rico's economy.

Alternatively, we could celebrate Christmas in the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge, as we do the other 364 days of the year.

Happy Holidays to all.

Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect and professor at Brandeis University's Heller School. His latest book is Debtors' Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility.

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