By ALAN FRAM
In Planned Parenthood’s first congressional appearance since being embarrassed by surreptitiously recorded videos, a House committee chairman insisted Tuesday that the organization does not need federal money and spends much of it on political activities.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, made the remarks to Cecile Richards, the group’s president, as she waited to testify before his House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Her appearance marked the group’s first public face-to-face encounter with Republicans since videos began emerging this summer showing the organization’s officials discussing how they provide fetal tissue for research.
Chaffetz lashed out at the organization for what he called “exorbitant” spending for salaries, travel, parties and lobbying.
“That’s money that’s not going to women’s health care,” said Chaffetz. He added, “It’s a political organization.”
The videos have made cutting Planned Parenthood’s federal money a top-tier priority for Republicans and conservatives.
In her prepared testimony, Richards said she is “proud” of its provision of fetal tissue for research but also sought to minimize the organ donations as a small part of its work.
Trying to take the offensive, Cecile Richards also criticized the Republicans who control Congress for not investigating David Daleiden and the other anti-abortion activists who made the recordings. Daleiden obtained them after posing as an executive of a phony firm that buys fetal tissue for scientists.
“It is clear that they acted fraudulently and unethically — and perhaps illegally,” Richards said in remarks prepared for her appearance Tuesday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “Yet it is Planned Parenthood, not Mr. Daleiden, that is currently subject to four separate congressional investigations.”
Several Republican presidential hopefuls have condemned Planned Parenthood for the procedures. And conservatives’ demands that Congress cut the group’s federal payments — for which Republicans lack the votes to succeed — indirectly contributed to the GOP unrest that prompted House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to announce his resignation last week.
In her written remarks, Richards said just 1 percent of Planned Parenthood’s nearly 700 clinics obtain fetal tissue for researchers seeking disease cures. She said that work is just a “minuscule” part of her organization’s services, which include sexual disease testing and the provision of contraception and abortions.
“Planned Parenthood is proud of its limited role in supporting fetal tissue research,” she said.
The videos — 10 have been released so far — capture Planned Parenthood officials casually describing how they sometimes obtain tissue from aborted fetuses for researchers.
Abortion foes say the videos show the group breaks federal laws barring for-profit fetal tissue sales and altering abortion procedures to obtain usable organs. Planned Parenthood and its defenders say it’s done nothing illegal and says that Daleiden dishonestly edited the videos to distort what was said.
So far, the most damage inflicted on Planned Parenthood by the videos is the insensitive way some of its officials discuss the procedures. That has drawn apologies from Planned Parenthood and bitter criticism from Republicans.
Most Democrats have rallied behind the group, and President Barack Obama has threatened to veto GOP legislation cutting its federal money. Public opinion polls show majorities oppose blocking Planned Parenthood’s taxpayer dollars. Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., fearing voter anger, have rebuffed conservatives who would shut down the government if Obama doesn’t agree to halt Planned Parenthood’s money.
The organization receives about a third of its $1.3 billion annual budget, around $450 million, from federal coffers, chiefly reimbursements for treating Medicaid’s low-income patients. Virtually no federal dollars can be used for abortions.
Democrats have used a Senate filibuster — a virtually endless procedural delay — to block GOP legislation halting Planned Parenthood’s federal payments. So two House committees plan to approve filibuster-proof legislation shifting Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid funds — about $350 million — to community health centers.
The bill also would keep a promise made during this spring’s budget debate to repeal key elements of Obama’s signature health care law. Panel votes are expected Tuesday and Wednesday.
Four congressional committees are investigating Planned Parenthood. Boehner has said he will also appoint a special committee to probe the group.
Planned Parenthood has defended itself with newspaper ads, petition campaigns and lawsuits against state efforts to curb its funding. On Tuesday, volunteers and supporters scheduled events in nearly 90 cities and planned to give lawmakers more than 2 million signatures on “I Stand With Planned Parenthood” petitions.
Associated Press writer David Crary contributed to this report.