GOP efforts in the latest Planned Parenthood hearing

Tuesday of last week saw Planned Parenthood Federation of America CEO Cecile Richards testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. According to Ms. Richards it was a voluntary appearance. Take her at her word.

It was, in truth, a voluntary PR appearance to try and stem the impact of the ten or so undercover videos produced by the Center for Medical Progress. Those videos, the ensuing social media uprising (including the #DefundPP campaign), and a national day of protest were the impetus that drove that particular hearing, and others that preceded it.

Ultimately, the hearing was too much political theater, as so many of them are. The Republicans attacked, attacked, attacked. The Democrats defended, defended, defended. Many of the Republican were underprepared. All the Democrats needed to complete their assemblage were pompoms. (Here’s the committee summary of their activity.)

Though having not watched all the five hour hearing, I focused on numerous among the GOP. Too few specifically asked about of the videos, except for the first video one released. It is questionable whether the Republican representatives have watched any of the others. Among those I watched there was no reference to any of the Planned Parenthood employees on the videos by name or quotes from them, no reference to the Stem Express employee whose testimony provides some of the most insightful information related to potential federal violations. No questions about Gulf Coast Planned Parenthood or the “line items.” No questions about the Lamborghini. No questions about how much it costs to ship one fetal heart in a box (at $50 of revenue), versus how much it costs to ship twenty fetal parts in a box (at $1,000 of revenue).

No questions about how much Stem Express and other “tissue middle-men” pay Planned Parenthood clinics for access to tissue samples. No questions about live births, changing presentation to access more organs, making sure fewer organs are “crushed” during the killing process.

We did get to hear who all was a grandparent with grandkids they loved, and a story or two about sick family members. Did these representatives hope to make Richards shed a tear? Does the GOP honestly think Cecile Richards is not aware of the many Americans who oppose abortion-on-demand? I feel certain she knows we exist.

Richards claimed only 1% of PP clinics are involved in the fetal tissue program. This seems suspect as it implies only 6-7 of all PP clinics nationwide are potentially involved. If California alone allowed fetal tissue donations, that puts well over 100 Planned Parenthood clinics in play. Tissue procurement firm Stem Express is headquartered in California, as is the PP affiliate featured in Stem Express’s promotional brochure. To be clear only a few states allow fetal tissue procurement in any form, so charges that Planned Parenthood is selling fetal tissue “coast to coast” or “all over the country” are inaccurate.

Charges that Planned Parenthood kills children “all over the country” remain painfully accurate.

Representative Mia Love of Utah seemed absolutely unaware as to Planned Parenthood’s national structure. She asked questions that were all but impossible for Richards (or anyone else) to answer accurately because the questions themselves were wrongly constructed. Ms. Love gave no indication of understanding the levels of Planned Parenthood (national, affiliate and clinic), or how they are related.

In arguing that defunding Planned Parenthood would mean more money for community clinics, Love less than astutely asked, “What is our job here? It’s to provide as many options as possible.” To which Richards replied: “I agree.” Why wouldn’t she agree? Planned Parenthood is one of the options.

At one point a representative did ask Richards, “Do you defend the sale of baby body parts?” to which she responded with a ghostly, “Nooo…..”

Arizonian Paul Gosar took part of this time to attack Democrat committee member Elijah Cummings for an EPA-related issue having nothing to do with Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards, fetal tissue sales, or the man on the moon. When he finally decided to address the issue, he made a few good points.

Paul Gosar: “You’re a CEO. You understand market penetration, right?”

This is a key, though Richards wiggled on it. Planned Parenthood is growing in “excesses of revenues over expenses” at the rate of $127M in a recent year, yet she was reticent to give any reason other than successful fundraising. Even non-profits have growth goals, though, and Planned Parenthood is in direct competition with other healthcare providers, both government supported and private. To get Medicaid reimbursement Planned Parenthood has to serve Medicaid patients. This is a demographic to which they market and for Richards to demure on the business aspects of the billion-dollar-a-year non-profit is bad form, even if a good public strategy.

Gosar developed a great line of questioning regarding Medicaid reimbursement, especially in regard to the price and reimbursement of contraceptives. Richards said she didn’t know, then disagreed on whether Gosar was correct or not. In other words, Gosar asked “Do you know?” Richards answered, “No, I don’t.” Gosar said, “Well, it’s about X.” Richards, “Well, it’s not that.”

Then, Cecile, why not say what you know it is if you know what it isn’t?

Having modestly hemmed-in Richards, but lacking any specific documentation to back his claims, Gosar moved to a quick lecture then was out of time. Had he used more facts in addition to his experience as a dentist, Gosar might have been able to make some real progress. This exchange was one of the few times in the hearing that Planned Parenthood’s lawyers, seated behind Richards, showed concern.

Texas representative Blake Farenthold brought up two instances of fraudulent Medicare billing from Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas. That is, two separate occasions resulting in millions of dollars in fines from violating federal law. Then, he abruptly changed directions. This would have been an opportune time to ask Ms Richards how much illegal activity is charged annually in Planned Parenthood’s network of affiliates and clinics, how much she knows about in advance, and how she can possibly imply no federal violations take place at Planned Parenthood clinics when, in fact, the very thing has happened. (Violations also happen at the state level.)

Mark Meadows of North Carolina tried to pin Ms Richards on the percentage of abortions related to total services. He makes a credible case that total clients (male and female) divided by abortions comes to 12%, not 3%. Richards answered multiple visits by the same client, and multiple services for the same client, can drive down the percentage. This much is true.

But when Meadows showed Richards an tax document from a Planned Parenthood clinic in Rochester, NY, the CEO acted genuinely confused; almost as if she didn’t see the relevance. “I’ve never seen this before,” she said. When it’s a 990 from one of your large affiliates, you surely are aware of what it is when seeing it.

I don’t question whether the CEO of PPFA has seen every single 990 from all 650 clinics and/or 59 affiliates. That’s why Planned Parenthood has accountants. What I do question is Richards acting as if she was totally unfamiliar with such a document. Is she really unaware that one of her affiliates or clinics might claim $1.4 million in abortion related income in a single year?

Meadows then blunders so stupefyingly it makes the head hurt: “But wouldn’t you have tax returns for all your affiliates, where we could get this information?”

Of course they do; and so does the committee, and many of the 990s for all PP affiliates are available online. Meadows insisted the committee did not have all documentation, while Richards was sure they did. After PP’s attorney whispered to Richards 990s for all affiliates have been provided to the committee, Meadows changed direction to a utterly futile complaint that the information didn’t match, even though he’d just admitted having seen only one of them.

Trey Gowdy, whose interaction with Richards was more than fours into the hearing, was especially disappointing. He whose conservative bona fides was established during the Benghazi hearing, could manage no fact based questions. Instead, he tried to coax Richards into some kind of stumble about her personal point of view on abortion, versus those who oppose her. Gowdy, frankly, sounded more like a crank than a man with a mission.

To another questioner Richards responded: “Every single affiliate in Planned Parenthood meets with all the laws and regulations.” This is, of course, a lie. Planned Parenthood clinics are fined for breaking laws in states across the nation. It just isn’t a matter of national news.

Richards also wiggled nearly every time she answered, “I run the national office,” as if it means she has no knowledge at all of her affiliates. It is totally disingenuous of Richards to insinuate she cannot say whether Planned Parenthood “makes money” off abortion services. Being a non-profit organization that “franchises” fifty-nine non-profit affiliates does not obscure revenues in excess of costs on services provided; it depends on it. Are we to believe the top levels of Planned Parenthood’s leadership does not discuss the revenue generating areas of the organization? Please. Even non-profits know from whence their revenue is generated. “Not for profit” does not mean “has no revenue.” “Has no revenue” means “out of business.” Non-profit speaks to how excess revenue is treated, not whether it exists. (See also: National Football League until a few months ago)

Does Richards not know whether Planned Parenthood affiliates nationwide, generally, charge more for birth control pills than they pay? Does Richards not know whether the clinics nationwide, generally, receive more revenue for a morning of 20 abortions than it spends? Does Richards not know whether Planned Parenthood clinics, generally, sell products for more than they pay for them? Does she not know, generally, whether Planned Parenthood has been able to negotiate buying power discounts available to all affiliates and clinics? Does she not know, generally, whether most Planned Parenthood clinics made or lost money in 2013, 2012, or 2011?

Any denials are ridiculous in the extreme. She does not need to know how much a box of paper clips costs to know whether they spend more on office supplies than they can afford. Abortion is a charge for service item at PP. Richards said over and over the number of abortions qualified for federal funds is really, really small. They charge a lot of money for abortions and do a lot of them, regardless of whether the client pays for it or it’s covered by a donor in Minnetonka.

Near the end of the ordeal, Dianne Black of Tennessee and Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina made a little headway. Black called Richards on the carpet for lying about a bill Black herself had sponsored. Richards used an answer she used often through the day, “We’ll just have to agree to disagree.” Convenient at times when the facts are not on your side.

Mulvaney, after numerous efforts, forced Richards to admit she had not even checked her organization to see if any federal funds were being used for tissue transfer programs. That one admission, grudgingly given after numerous skirting attempts, demonstrates a startling disinterest by Planned Parenthood’s CEO as to the legal operation of her affiliates. Note also Richards doesn’t “believe” anything wrong is being done.

So, despite her spirited assertion that no federal laws were being broken, and her repeated assertions she cannot know what goes on in all her clinics, Cecile Richards declined an internal investigation based on her belief that Planned Parenthood wasn’t doing anything wrong. Or, perhaps, it was just the opposite.

Cecile Richards is the 10-year CEO of a morbidly efficient killing machine. The blood of the Killing Fields is a literal drop in the bucket to that spilled in Planned Parenthood clinics since 1973. Representative Lummins argued that some 86% of Planned Parenthood’s non-government derived income is from “abortion services” or “pregnancy terminations,” despite Richard’s continued insistence abortion represents a mere 3% of their total services. (In this part of the hearing, Richards does not deny the eighty-six percent characterization.) Family planning is the loss-leader at PP in the “non-government reimbursement” category.

The GOP effort was disappointing, but at least it was an effort. Maybe they’ll do better next time. At least they did not join the Democratic representatives who were all but standing on their desks shamelessly cheering.

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.