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Congress votes to allow states to defund Planned Parenthood, allows key environmental program and business banking institution to expire

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It was big week on the abortion rights front as Cecile Richards testified in front of the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday, Sept. 29, as part of a GOP-led investigation into Planned Parenthood in the wake of sting videos that purport to show that Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissue to researchers.

Richards was repeatedly interrupted by GOP lawmakers who questioned her about her salary, Planned Parenthood's finances and the organization's practice of referring women to radiologists for X-rays.

That same day, the House of Representatives voted 236-193 on legislation to allow states to cut off Medicaid funding for organizations that provide abortion services. The vote was mostly along party lines, with just nine Republicans voting to oppose the bill and just two Democrats voting to support it.

Among Southern Arizona members, Congresswoman Martha McSally voted in favor of the legislation, while Democrats Raul Grijalva and Ann Kirkpatrick voted against it.

The legislation was in response to several states that have seen their efforts to defund Planned Parenthood stopped by the federal courts.

Arizona is one of those states. In 2012, the Arizona Legislature passed a law determining that any health-care organization that also provides abortion services was ineligible for reimbursement from the federal Medicaid dollars that flow through state.

Planned Parenthood took the state to court and won because federal law requires that states reimburse any "qualified" healthcare provider. State lawmakers tried to redefine "qualified" to automatically disqualify an abortion provider, but the federal courts put the law on hold and in 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to accept the case.

McSally spokesman Patrick Ptak said that last week's vote to allow states the ability to cut off Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers from Medicaid reimbursement "was about affording states flexibility regarding where their own funding goes within the state and doesn't single out any one entity or program. Rep. McSally believes states should have a say in deciding how best to use their own funding for health care, while ensuring access to preventative care and other essential reproductive services for those who need them. She will continue to support solutions that achieve better overall health outcomes for women and men."

In a statement announcing that President Barack Obama would veto the legislation if it reached his desk, White House officials said the bill "would restrict women's health and reproductive choices."

"By permitting the withholding of Federal Medicaid funding for such providers, clinics, or hospitals, H.R. 3495 likely would limit access to both critical women's health services and health care throughout local communities across the nation, and would have a disproportionate impact on women and low-income individuals," the administration statement said. "Moreover, it would undermine a woman's right, upheld by the Supreme Court, to make her own choices about her body and her health care." 

In other legislation action, Congress failed to reauthorize two other major programs: The Export-Import Bank and the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The Export-Import Bank provides key funding for businesses that work in international trade. Since 2007, the bank has provided financing help to 152 Arizona businesses who exported an estimated $1 billion in goods, according to figures compiled by the Export-Import Bank.

But Tea Party Republicans have criticized the bank as an outdated institution engaged in crony capitalism.

Kirkpatrick told the Weekly via email that she wants to see the Export-Import Bank reauthorized.

"There's really no good reason for Congress to stall on this," Kirkpatrick said. "At no cost to taxpayers, the Export–Import Bank provides critical financing for businesses across our nation. In particular, it helps our small businesses in Arizona as they work to create jobs here at home and sell their products overseas. We need to get this done."

Earlier this year, Grijalva called on Congress to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank.

"American businesses—especially in border states like Arizona—benefit greatly from the Ex-Im Bank, creating jobs and promoting economic opportunity at no cost to American taxpayers," Grijalva said in a prepared statement.

Ptak said that McSally "will thoughtfully review any reauthorization legislation that is brought up."

"Rep. McSally recognizes that many small companies, including some in Douthern Arizona, have utilized the bank, and might be at a competitive disadvantage to foreign companies who have similar programs in their countries if the bank is permanently eliminated," Ptak said.

Congress also failed to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses revenue from off-shore oil and gas leases to expand and improve local, state and national parks.

All three Southern Arizona members of Congress said they wanted to the fund back in business.

"This program is one of our nation's success stories and has overwhelming bipartisan support—yet Congress sat by and let it expire. Without its reauthorization, many natural, historical and cultural landmarks in Arizona and across the nation will suffer," Kirkpatrick said. "The LWCF also supports outdoor recreation in Arizona, which in turn sustains more than 100,000 jobs and brings over $10 billion in consumer spending to our economy. This is the first time in 50 years that Congress has failed to reauthorize this program, and it's shameful."

Grijalva sponsored legislation earlier this year to make the fund permanent. At the time, Grijalva said in a prepared statement that the "LWCF's mission is popular, but it's more than that—it's a binding guarantee Congress and the federal government have made to the public. Drawing out the uncertainty over the program's funding every few years serves no one, especially when our constituents so strongly believe in the LWCF's mission and value to the country. We should make it permanent, avoid prolonged budget battles and get back to the business of protecting our natural spaces. Anything less is a disservice to the legacy of Teddy Roosevelt and the generations of Americans who gave us the many beautiful American landscapes we enjoy today."

Ptak said that McSally "supports reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. In September, she joined 29 of her Republican colleagues to call on Speaker Boehner to permanently reauthorize the program."

More by Jim Nintzel

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