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What’s the plan on the budget?


IT’S HARD TO GET past worries these days that the car won’t start, the pipes will freeze or the ice will launch you bobsledding across the driveway. But whenever my feet warm up enough for me to think about the turmoil filling the news these days, I wonder what effect it will have on everyday life around here.

Leaving aside speculation about what events overseas mean for geopolitics and gas prices, the top story from Washington is the budget. If the House, Senate and president don’t come to some sort of agreement on current year spending by the end of next week, the federal government faces a “partial shutdown” like the one in 1995. True, plenty of people wouldn’t notice the difference right away if the government did close its doors, but experts say services for veterans, for instance, and funding that helps cities and states may be disrupted.

So far, the debate in Washington has focused on what to cut, and our representative, Chris Gibson (R-20th), a member of the House GOP majority, has cast a couple of votes that deserve attention. The first is a decision to end a program for an “alternate” engine for the F-35 fighter plane, usually identified as “the nation’s most expensive weapons program.” That cut would save $450 billion in the current year. Mr. Gibson voted to get rid of the program even though one of the companies developing it is GE, which employs a lot of people in his district.

No one could ever accuse Mr. Gibson, who recently retired from a career in the Army, of weakening national defense. And while the Pentagon didn’t want the engine, House speaker John Boehner did. Bloated military spending has to be reined in if we are ever going to have a rational budget, and this was an important first step. Mr. Gibson deserves high praise for his vote.

Another vote with potentially greater local impact was the House decision to cut all support for Planned Parenthood and for a stream of federal funding called Title X (that’s the Roman numeral 10). Title X is the part of federal public health law that addresses family planning. Even though none of the money Planned Parenthood receives from the federal government is used for abortions, abortion rights opponents believe that the organization should lose all its support because it offers abortions.

Mr. Gibson voted to end funds for Planned Parenthood. His office said that he believes the line between abortion services and the family planning and health services the organization provides are not clear. His spokesperson said that he does support Title X and is studying ways to support it, even though the budget resolution eliminates it.

Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood operates a clinic in Greenport. Last year it had 2,466 visits, about 10% of which involved abortions. The other visits? The largest number involved contraception, over 1,400 of those visits. Then there were pregnancy tests (513) and tests for sexually transmitted infections (592), HIV tests (147) and Pap tests to detect cervical cancer (163). And that doesn’t include the benefits women derive when they are seen by healthcare professionals. Most who received these services were women between the ages of 18 and 34; many are working women, some uninsured or underinsured.

Title X provides Planned Parenthood with the funding to offer care to women and young people on a sliding scale, starting at no charge. If the House bill on the budget ends that funding, where are they supposed to turn for help?

Statewide, Planned Parenthood has more than double the number of clinics of the next largest provider, the state health department. And Planned Parenthood offers contraception to more women than all the other providers combined. The state is broke and can’t hope to replace Planned Parenthood’s programs. Hospitals can’t either. So if the House budget resolution becomes law, the choice is for Washington to create a big, new, government funded agency to fill the gap or to simply leave hundreds of women and children in this community — perhaps millions nationwide — at risk.

I take Mr. Gibson at his word about Title X. I believe he does not want to jeopardize the health of innocent women and children, leaving them with no alternative for their care. But with the deadline for a current federal budget agreement just days away, I am waiting to hear how he plans to avert the crisis his budget votes have helped create.

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