Pelosi vs. Economists

Following controversial comments made by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, President Barack Obama asked that contraceptive funding originally included in the economic stimulus package be dropped, which pleased pro-family and pro-life groups.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Following controversial comments made by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, President Barack Obama asked that contraceptive funding originally included in the economic stimulus package be dropped.

In the $825 billion House’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was $87 billion to help states with Medicaid and an expansion of contraception programs.

Republicans criticized the provision as just one example of wasteful spending that would neither create jobs nor improve the economy.

“How can you spend hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives — how does that stimulate the economy?” asked Republican minority leader John Boehner at a White House meeting on Jan. 23. “You can go through a whole host of issues that have nothing to do with growing jobs in America and helping people keep their jobs.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defended the provision during on exchange with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week” on Jan. 25. Stephanopoulos asked how such money would stimulate the economy.

“Family-planning services reduce cost,” replied Pelosi. “Contraception will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government.”

Reaction to Pelosi’s comments was strong, particularly from Catholic leaders.

“Last week, President Barack Obama lifted restrictions on federal funds being used to promote and perform abortions overseas. Now we have Pelosi arguing that the way to balance the budget is not by cutting expenditures, but by cutting kids,” said Bill Donohue, president of the New York-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. “We have reached a new low when high-ranking public office holders in the federal government cast children as the enemy.”

Others agreed, suggesting that such a view ignores the benefits to the economy in terms of human capital.

“Contraception is tied to the economic crisis we’re in. If you keep dwindling the population, you’re going to have these shockwaves of economic contraction,” said Lawrence Roberge, author of the 1995 book The Cost of Abortion, which showed the deleterious effects abortion has on a nation’s economy. “My analysis is coming home to roost.”

Roberge compared Pelosi’s remarks with those made by many in the discredited eugenics and social engineering movement of the last century.

In his book Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What to Do About It, Phil Longman writes: “Population growth is a major source of economic growth: More people create more demand for the products capitalists sell, and more supply of the labor capitalists buy. Economists may be able to construct models of how economies could grow amid a shrinking population, but in the real world, it has never happened. A nation’s GDP is literally the sum of its labor force times average output per worker. Thus a decline in the number of workers implies a decline in an economy’s growth potential.”

Pelosi’s comments also drew criticism from some major news hosts and commentators. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and CNN’s Jack Cafferty compared her remarks as similar to China’s one-child policy.

Even some family-planning supporters questioned Pelosi’s reasoning.

“I’m disappointed that she [Pelosi] would so blithely introduce such programs. There’s nothing new in what she’s suggesting,” said Robert Prince, senior lecturer of international studies at the University of Denver Korbel School of International Studies. While he supports family planning, Prince disagrees with how such programs have historically been implemented.

“Decisions are made in a way that demonstrates class, ethnic or racial bias,” said Prince. “Who’s going to be making those decisions?”

On Jan. 27, the president asked Henry Waxman, who chairs the House committee with jurisdiction over Medicaid, to drop the provision from the package. A spokesperson from Speaker Pelosi’s office told the Register that the contraception provision had indeed been dropped.

News reports on Jan. 28 suggested that while Democrats may have eliminated provisions for birth control in the stimulus package, it still contains $335 million for sexually transmitted disease education and prevention for the Centers for Disease Control.

Pro-abortion activists were upset by the provision’s removal. Citing figures provided by a 2007 Congressional Budget Office study, they suggest that publicly funded family planning could save the federal government $200 million over five years by helping women avoid pregnancies that otherwise would lead to Medicaid-funded births.

“If the anti-contraception forces are able to use distortion and harness a frothing media to convince Obama to jettison such a pragmatic and common-sense solution, the next few years may be rockier than we thought,” wrote blogger Cristina Page.

Pro-family and pro-life groups, however, were pleased with the action.

“This is a huge victory for American taxpayers and for the pro-life movement,” said Operation Rescue president Troy Newman. “We rejoice that the coffers of Planned Parenthood and their ilk will be denied … public money for what amounted to a shameful population-control program that targeted low-income families.”

What the Provision Provided

The federal government already provides a 90% match rate for family-planning services in Medicaid. Opponents of the provision said that it would greatly expand Medicaid funding for family-planning services and abortion. The provision would ensure that states would no longer need federal permission to offer contraception and other family-planning services under Medicaid.

Dennis Smith, senior fellow in the Center for Health Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation, described the provision as a “radical social agenda” that had no place in the economic stimulus package.

Smith said that the provision would expand eligibility for Medicaid-sponsored family-planning services to even those who aren’t poor.

“Section 5004 … would make Medicaid into a virtual money machine for family-planning clinics,” said Smith, adding that the provision would create new eligibility groups, such as children and college students, and also expand benefits to include medical diagnosis and treatment services that are provided in conjunction with family-planning services or in a family-planning setting. He described it as a “massive loophole.”

Given the president’s support for family planning and abortion, observers expect that the provision will make its way into later legislation.

“I remain committed to protecting a woman’s right to choose,” President Obama stated on the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. “To accomplish these goals, we must work to find common ground to expand access to affordable contraception, accurate health information, and preventative services.”

Tim Drake is based in

St. Joseph, Minnesota.

Nancy Pelosi

As House Speaker, she is the highest-ranking woman in the U.S. Congress

Early Years

Born 1940 in Baltimore where father and brother served as mayor

Education Bachelor’s degree, Trinity College, Washington, D.C. 1962

Early career

1977-87 Held several posts in California Democratic Party, including state and finance chairs.

1986-87 Public relations executive, Ogilvy & Mather

In Congress

1987 Elected to the House from San Francisco

2001 Named minority (Democratic) whip

2002-06 Minority leader

2006-present House Speaker

Source: U.S. House of Representatives,

Almanac of American Politics