Washington Post: Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’s truce put to the test

This article first appeared online at The Washington Post on April 26, 2011.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’s truce put to the test
By Rachel Weiner

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels faces a tough decision on social issues. (Jose Luis Magana – AP)

While Democrats in Congress blocked Republicans from defunding Planned Parenthood earlier this month, some states have responded with their own measures to pull funding for the nonprofit. One such state is Indiana — putting to the test Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels’s call for a truce on social issues.

If the state legislature passes a Senate bill and Daniels signs it, Indiana would become the first state to block Medicaid recipients from receiving care at Planned Parenthood. A similar bill is in working its way through the Kansas legislature, with the support of Gov. Sam Brownback (R).

Though he says he is firmly anti-abortion, Daniels has repeatedly made the case that Republicans should put aside such issues in 2012 to focus on economic problems. “We’re going to need to unify all kinds of people, and we’re going — freedom is going — to need every friend it can get,” he explained in a recent interview.

Daniels has already taken heat from rivals and Republican activists for his approach. If he vetoes a law that takes on one of social conservatives’ biggest targets, he could make it much harder for himself to navigate the 2012 primary field. And even as he talks of a truce, Daniels has a legacy to preserve as an abortion opponent in his state.

But family planning in Indiana is a fiscal as well as a social issue. Half of all births in the state are covered by Medicaid. If Daniels signs the Senate version of the bill, he would likely be giving up $4 million in federal dollars and bringing the state into a costly legal battle.

Because federal law blocks states from choosing which organizations can provide family planning services to Medicaid patients, the measure could cost the state all federal funding for family planning. Planned Parenthood is prepared to sue if the proposal is signed into law. They also estimate that the move would cost the state $68 million in Medicaid expenses for unintended pregnancies by reducing birth control access.

The fight also has implications for another 2012 race. Rep. Mike Pence (R), who is expected to run for governor in Washington, has been leading the fight to defund Planned Parenthood in that state. Former state House Speaker John Gregg, the likely Democratic rival, is defending the organization back home. Democrats are preparing to tie Pence to this fight in hopes that he will be seen as too conservative for the state. Elizabeth Smith, the Democratic Governors Association communications director, called it “divisive and partisan legislation that wouldn’t create a single job.”

In Indiana, Daniels’s office is not commenting on the proposal, saying he will make a decision when a bill reaches his desk. The legislation is still in conference committee.

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma (R) has voiced concerns over “some constitutional issues” with the Planned Parenthood provision. Republicans in the state say Daniels hopes the House will adjust the bill without his input.

“I have always believed that he is one who understands the wisdom of investing in family planning,” said Betty Cockrum, president of Planned Parenthood Indiana. However, “given the current political climate” — pressure on the governor and the possibility of a 2012 campaign — she thinks that if the bill gets to his desk, it’s a “very good possibility” he will sign it. On this, Cockrum agrees with the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony’s List, whose president said: “We expect that Governor Daniels understands that there is no truce on doing what is right.”

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