They’re like a giant ball, rolling through the hallways, with wiggling arms and legs sticking out and yells and screams emanating from within.

Who?

Why, the majority party of the United States Senate, of course.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked amendments to the necessary and tough-to-veto Highway Bill. Among those amendments he killed was language defunding Planned Parenthood. In the meantime, he pushed through an amendment supporting the Export-Import Bank.

In response, Senator Presidential Candidate Ted Cruz took the floor to call the Majority Leader — which is to say the duly elected leader of his own Senate Republican Caucus — a “simple liar.” I do not know if Senator Cruz was referring to the Majority Leader’s intellect or the clarity of his speech, but the phrase “simple lie” did tend to get repeated a few times in the diatribe against his leader.

What he was so worked up about was an internecine struggle over which amendments to the Highway Bill would be heard. His feathers were clearly ruffled by the power plays of the Republican leadership against fellow Republicans. The Export-Import Bank amendment, which its opponents characterize as “corporate welfare” and its proponents call “pro-business,” had evidently been the topic of heretofore off-camera discussions between Senator Cruz and Majority Leader McConnell.

Senator Cruz broke with the unwritten rules of Senate decorum to make a speech telling the world that Majority Leader McConnell had promised his fellow Republican Senators that the Export-Import Bank amendment would never see the light of day, and that McConnell then broke his word and put it to a vote. That vote, I might add, led a good number of these ostensibly lied-to senators to vote in favor of the measure that they were lied to about.  

Now what does this tale of men at yell have to do with defunding Planned Parenthood? Just about everything.

Here’s the deal.

While the Senate Republicans were splitting up over Majority Leader McConnell’s action in pushing through the Export-Import Bank amendment, McConnell also deep-sixed an amendment to defund Planned Parenthood. Senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul attempted to attach amendments to the bill that they say would have “defunded Planned Parenthood.” The Chair ruled the amendments out of order.

What’s the big deal about that? Doesn’t the Senate have other bills? In fact, couldn’t it pass a stand-alone bill defunding Planned Parenthood?

The big deal is that the Highway Bill is one of those must-pass pieces of legislation that everybody wants to see go into law, including the President. The federal Highway Trust Fund runs out of money on Friday. That has the road-construction industry and much of the business world in all fifty states pushing hard for this bill.

It would be impossible for most members of Congress to vote against the Highway Bill, and tough for the President to veto. I assume that the President would veto it, if it had language defunding Planned Parenthood in it, but it would give him — and Congressional Democrats—considerable heartburn.

The cherry on top was actually the much-discussed Export-Import Bank amendment. President Obama and most Democrats want that amendment. The bill, with both the Export-Import Bank amendment and the amendment defunding Planned Parenthood, would be a great bill for an override vote.

That’s why the Highway Bill was the place to put the amendment defunding Planned Parenthood and why I don’t think anyone whose first loyalty is to the babies should have been against the Export-Import Amendment. The trick here was to make an override possible. But Majority Leader McConnell killed that hope with a ruling from the chair.

Just to add a bit of salt to the soup, the House of Representatives has said that it plans to sideline the Export-Import amendment that got Senator Presidential Candidate Cruz going. If the House is not just playing games with the Senate, and they go through with it and kill the amendment, the Senate will have another look at the bill before it goes to the President.

If the amendment stays out, the President may veto the bill. That veto would probably stand. Which, since it’s a must-pass bill, means we might get a do-over. If, on the other hand, the House leaves the Export-Import amendment in and adds an amendment defunding Planned Parenthood, then, the Senate would get another shot at doing this bill, the right way.  

Where does all this gamesmanship leave pro-life people? First, even if we manage to get an amendment defunding Planned Parenthood on the Highway Bill, and even if it survives a veto, whether or not it will accomplish anything depends on how it’s worded.

Second, even if we do all that, and the amendment is worded properly, there’s still a lot of money out there going to Planned Parenthood through federal funds of various sorts. Defunding Planned Parenthood for real is a complex and tricky undertaking. It takes something we have not had up until now, which is truly dedicated pro-life lawmakers who will devote themselves to getting it done.

I think the most likely outcome of all this is that there will be a vote of some sort on defunding Planned Parenthood. But it won’t make it into law. The beauty of putting an amendment on the Highway Bill was two-fold. First, the bill itself is a must-pass for both political parties and it’s up against a hard deadline. Second, the amendment could pass with a simple majority vote and no filibuster.

Without this bill, we face a long slog through other amendments on less important bills or a standalone bill, all of which are unlikely to make it to law. It appears that what Majority Leader McConnell has set up is a vote or votes that are doomed to fail so far as lawmaking goes, but that will make nice fodder for the upcoming campaign.

You know the story: Godly Republicans tried to defund Planned Parenthood, but Demonic Democrats stopped them. Or, maybe that other verse: Woman-hating Republicans tried to destroy women’s health care and Courageous Democrats stood tall against them.

Everybody wins with this one. Planned Parenthood wins. The Republicans win with their newly-minted campaign issue. Democrats win with their continuing cash support from ardent pro-aborts.

Everybody wins. Except the babies. They, of course, lose.

How did this train wreck, this debacle, happen? Why do pro-life efforts always end smashed to smithereens by the political wrecking ball?

More to the point, why, after all these decades with, at times, both houses of Congress and a sitting President proclaiming their pro-life credos, hasn’t Planned Parenthood already been defunded? If they mean it, why haven’t they done it? Why does this keep happening to us?

I’m going to do my best to answer that question. If our elected officials and Cecile Richards will just stop jumping sharks for a day or so, I’ll go into nauseating detail, in what I hope is my next post.

If they do more of their stuff, I’ll pause and talk about them and their latest whatever.  

It’s tough to stay on track when you write at the intersection of faith and public life. In this post-Christian, deconstructing-America age of nihilistic zeitgeist, somebody’s always topping themselves in venality.

It’s hard to keep up.