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'Contraceptives' provision out of stimulus

From NBC's Mike Viqueira

The 10 or so House Republicans that we spoke with coming out of their meeting with the president were uniformly impressed with him as a person and a speaker, but that's as far as it goes.

"No blood drawn, no minds changed," said one southern conservative who went on to praise Obama as "a nice guy." At the mics later, John Boehner allowed that the president is "sincere."

Video: A controversial provision that would allocate money for contraceptives is pulled from the proposed economic stimulus package. Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson discusses with MSNBC's David Shuster.

Another Texas conservative admiringly referred to the president as "The Charmer-in-Chief," as well as "personable" and "funny." But when asked if any minds were changed on the bill, he and a colleague together laughed and, without saying anything more, got on the elevator.The provision within the stimulus that would allocate money for contraceptive programs through Medicaid will be pulled out of the package.

NBC News confirms that the president called Henry Waxman, the chairman of the committee that inserted the contraception provision into the stimulus during the mark up last week, to ask him to remove the measure from the bill, according to a Democratic leadership source.

In short, the idea has simply become too controversial. Speaker Nancy Pelosi's defense of the program over the weekend, where she indicated that it would be a money saver, was not well received.

So that provision is out.

Complicating matters, both Minority Leader John Boehner and No. 2 Eric Cantor have told House Republicans that "all Republicans should vote against the stimulus" if it remains "in its current form," according to a GOP leadership aide.

They spoke inside their weekly conference meeting, behind closed doors. Afterward, both men came to the on camera stake out. The House will begin debate on the stimulus package late today, with no votes expected until tomorrow. Debate is expected to begin somewhere close to 5 p.m. ET.

The way your U.S. House works is that anyone who wants to offer an amendment to be considered on the floor has to go to a committee, the Rules Committee, beforehand.

The Rules Committee is a complete and utter tool of the majority leadership. It decides which amendments will be allowed on the floor for consideration. The minority is habitually unhappy with the result, as their measures, especially the ones that have a chance of passage or contain some political mischief or "poison pill" language, are barred. The Rules committee meets this afternoon to make its decisions.

"I think what our big moves will be today are to ask the President to help us," Boehner said. "Help us make this plan better, so that it will put Americans back to work. The goal has been to preserve jobs and to create new jobs and if that is the laser focus that we want to have, a lot of the spending in this bill does not achieve that. All it does is burden our kids and their kids with more debt. So we need the president's help to make this plan better so it will work for the American people."

*** UPDATE *** NBC's Doug Adams adds that in the House version of the stimulus bill is a provision that would allow states, thru Medicaid, to provide "family planning services and supplies" to low income women. States have been able to do this already (27 already do), but they had to seek a waiver from the federal government. The provision would have eliminated the waiver requirement. 

The CBO report out today estimates the cost of this provision would be about $550 million over the next 10 years, with most of the costs coming up front in the first three years.

Republicans have riduculed the provision, with Boehner famously asking last week, "How can you spend millions on contaceptives? How does that stimulate the economy?"

Rush Limbaugh had a long tirade yesterday on this subject on his radio show; and Drudge has also given it big play. 

Pelosi defended the provision Sunday on ABC, saying the family planning services would "reduce costs," presumably by decreasing unplanned pregnancies.

The issue is a winner for Republicans, because it helps them to rally their base, and allows them to portray Democrats as liberals (not to mention Pelosi as a Bay Area far lefty). 

Given all the bad press, and the bad politics, House Democrats decided today to reverse course, and strip it from the stimulus bill.

*** UPDATE 2 *** The National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association takes issue with the post pointing out the cost.

A spokeswoman writes: "It's our understanding that this provision would continue to SAVE money, just as public funds for family planning usually do. The 2007 report pegged federal government savings at $200 million over 5 years and $400 million over 10 years, in addition to savings at the state level."

Here's the link to the CBO estimate (Page 16 for the Medicaid family planning provision).