Arizona Rep. Trent Franks, one of the most conservative Republicans in the House, opened a hearing on Planned Parenthood Wednesday with a statement that should terrify House Speaker John Boehner.
"The sands of time should blow over the Capitol dome before we ever give Planned Parenthood one more dime of taxpayers' money," Franks declared in an opening statement.
Franks is part of a movement in the Republican Congress hell-bent on defunding Planned Parenthood, potentially even shutting down the government. This fight is shaping up into the biggest policy clash of the rest of the year — testing the power of the far-right wing of the Republican conference and, once again, putting Planned Parenthood in the spotlight.
House Speaker John Boehner knows defunding Planned Parenthood won't fly with Democrats in the Senate or with President Barack Obama. The question is whether Boehner can keep enough of his conference in line to pass a bill to keep the government running, as he did a year ago, or whether he'll lose them and endure a government shutdown, as he did two years ago when the government closed for almost a month.
So far, at least, the issue is not going away. It came up repeatedly at Wednesday's hearing — despite the fact that the hearing was meant to focus on "the organization's practices."
"When Congress sets budget priorities, we have to decide what's important and what should not be funded," Michigan Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner said, questioning Planned Parenthood's funding. "Would you please tell us why Planned Parenthood needs to get over a half-billion in federal funding each year when there are other pressing needs like feeding hungry children?"
And speaking on Planned Parenthood's funding, Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador added, "This nation should step back on whether we are a moral nation or an immoral nation."
Planned Parenthood gets just over $500 million in public funds annually
Just over 40 percent of Planned Parenthood's budget comes from government grants and reimbursements, the organization's most recent budget report shows. Between June 2013 and 2014, Planned Parenthood received $528.4 million in public funding, a big chunk of its $1.3 billion national budget.
That $528.4 million figure covers both state and federal funding, and Planned Parenthood does not publicly break out how much money it gets just from federal funding. The best estimate arguably comes from the Government Accountability Office, which estimated that Planned Parenthood received $105 million in federal funding in 2012.
There are two main ways Planned Parenthood receives public funds. One is through Medicaid, the public health insurance program that covers 71 million low-income Americans. Whenever a Medicaid patient has an appointment at a Planned Parenthood clinic, the nonprofit will bill the health plan for whatever services the patient uses.
The other source of funding is grants, largely through the Title X Family Planning Program — the only domestic grant program dedicated to family planning. Organizations like Planned Parenthood often use Title X grants to subsidize birth control, STD screenings, and other reproductive health services for low-income patients who may lack health insurance coverage.
Planned Parenthood receives Title X funds both directly from the federal government and from states, which will sometimes make the nonprofit's health center a subgrantee for the dollars they receive from the federal government.
Planned Parenthood doesn't use federal dollars to pay for abortions — but conservatives argue funds are "fungible"
The current government shutdown fight has a sense of déjà vu for Capitol Hill veterans: Conservatives unsuccessfully attempted to defund Planned Parenthood in a 2011 budget fight.
A government shutdown was only averted when Congress reached a budget deal at the last moment — only one hour before funds would have run out. That deal continued the funding Planned Parenthood had then, and that continues today.
Planned Parenthood remains a key target for conservatives because it is the largest abortion provider in the country. Federal law expressly prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for abortions. While abortion providers like Planned Parenthood can qualify for grants, the government requires that no federal dollars go toward the termination of pregnancies.
There is no evidence currently suggesting that Planned Parenthood illegally uses federal funds to pay for abortions. Still, conservatives have protested that it's possible — and that the best solution is to strip Planned Parenthood of all federal dollars altogether.
"Money is fungible," Sensenbrenner said at the hearing. "You and I know that."
Can a Planned Parenthood fight shut down the government?
We know there's a faction of conservative Republicans who want to cut off Planned Parenthood's funding. At least 31 members have signed on to a Heritage Action pledge refusing to back a budget that funds the group.
We also know the Obama administration will not bend on the issue and, historically, has gone to great lengths to defend Planned Parenthood's funding.
What we don't know, at this point, is how those two forces ultimately collide. Republican leaders are, according to Politico, already looking at a short-term budget bill that could keep the government running for an additional month as the debate continues.
And it's hard to know how far conservatives are willing to take their fight — whether the 31 members committed to defunding the group will see their ranks grow.
And even for Franks, who started the hearing with a fiery statement, it's not clear how far he's willing to go on the issue. At the end of the five-hour hearing, I asked him whether he'd be okay with a government shutdown over Planned Parenthood's funding. He told me, "I'm not going to answer that," before walking out of the room.