MONTPELIER — The two Republicans facing off in a 2016 primary for the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination say they do not stand with Republicans in Washington seeking to nix federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, the state’s only statewide, elected Republican official, said he did not follow Tuesday’s congressional hearing led by House Republicans with Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards but is aware of Republican-led efforts to defund the national organization.
Scott said Wednesday he supports the health services the group provides to women.
“I’m pro-choice. I always have been and I believe that Planned Parenthood provides very important health services that go far beyond abortions for women,” he said. “They provide great services and needed services.”
Scott’s primary opponent, Bruce Lisman, the retired Wall Street executive and founder of the advocacy group Campaign for Vermont, said he, too is pro-choice and supports Planned Parenthood and its federal funding.
“It should not be defunded,” said Lisman.
Richards was grilled for about five hours Tuesday by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican. The hearing was called because of videos that emerged online over the summer in which Planned Parenthood officials discussed harvesting tissue from aborted fetuses. But the hearing largely focused on Planned Parenthood’s funding.
Richards strenuously denied that the group broke any laws banning for-profit fetal tissue sales. She said the videos were heavily doctored.
Lisman said he would prefer Congress focus on other issues impacting Vermonters and Americans.
“They should not hold five or six hours worth of hearings,” he said. “They don’t spend that much time talking about fundamental problems in our country.”
Conservatives in Congress have demanded that federal funding for Planned Parenthood be stopped, and some have advocated for a federal government shutdown if a spending plan does not slash the group’s federal support.
Scott said Wednesday that he does not support those efforts.
“I would hope, number one, that we wouldn’t try to shut down government over funding for Planned Parenthood, and that we would look at the good work that they do for women in Vermont and around the country,” he said.
Funding for Planned Parenthood should not impact the federal government’s operations, according to Lisman.
“They should not use that excuse to bring our government to a halt,” he said.
The Senate approved a short-term spending plan Wednesday that preserved Planned Parenthood’s funding. The House is expected to follow suit, staving off any shutdown threat until mid-December.
However, some House committees have begun work on stand alone legislation to cut most of the group’s federal money. Such legislation would not be subject to the Senate’s filibuster rules, which means it could eventually reach President Barack Obama’s desk, according to the Associated Press. It faces a veto by the president should it clear Congress.
Planned Parenthood receives about one-third of its $1.3 billion annual budget through Medicaid payments for performing health services to low-income women. Federal funds cannot be used for abortions.
Scott said he did not know if the videos that have inspired conservatives in Congress to cut funding for Planned Parenthood are reputable.
“I don’t know anything about the allegations, whether they are true or not, but I’m sure we can all agree that no organization should be profiting from abortions,” he said.
Lisman said he believes Vermont voters will differentiate between candidates running for office in Vermont and those in Washington.
“I think Vermonters are very aware and very engaged,” he said. “I think they can, and have in the past, make the distinction between what happens at the dysfunctional national stage and what’s happening in our neighborhood.”