Fungible argument not feasible

Fungible (fuhn-juh-buhl), Adj. — Being of such nature or kind as to be freely exchangeable or replaceable. Noun — Strawman argument in 2011 politics.

A few weeks ago, the House of Representatives approved an amendment to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood, which provides cancer screening and contraception. At issue was Planned Parenthood’s status as an abortion provider.

Federal money cannot fund abortions, via the Hyde Amendment, and Planned Parenthood has accounting that shows they obey the law. But that’s just not good enough.

“Money is fungible,” Indiana Rep. Mike Pence said during debate of the measure. “They don’t use that money for abortions, but use it to cover other things to free up money to promote and provide abortions. Separation of accounting records and separation of facilities within the same building is not enough.”

I see two problems with fungibility as a line of attack.

The first is that it’s a very selective attack. Consider:

• It’s illegal for candidates for federal office to take foreign campaign contributions.

• The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent millions in the 2010 election, accepts foreign donations into its general fund.

• The Chamber used its general fund to pay for campaign contributions, which benefited Republicans such as Pence.

Yet, there’s no congressional call for a Federal Election Commission investigation that since “money is fungible,” foreign dollars free up expenses for congressional campaigns.

My accusation highlights the second problem. Nobody has proven a shell game from either Chamber or Planned Parenthood. Arguing fungibility in these cases takes an inference of misconduct, and substitutes it for proof.

Another fungibility argument is taking place across state legislatures, in an attempt to remove collective bargaining rights from public employees.

The argument is that public employees pay union dues, which makes the union stronger. The stronger union uses its collective bargaining power for larger salaries and benefits. Why, it’s downright criminal, using taxpayer dollars to lobby for more taxpayer dollars.

It’s troubling logic … or it would be, if it were true. If it were, it would be perfectly rational of me to tell my high school friend — who worked for Halliburton, a government-contracted firm — to stop spending so much of my money at the bar.

When Mr. Teacher goes grocery shopping on payday, taxpayer dollars didn’t buy his Cap’n Crunch; he did. And if there’s a payroll deduction to a union or a charity, taxpayer dollars didn’t provide for that; he did. They stopped being taxpayer dollars the instant the paycheck was issued.

You don’t have to like unions or a woman’s right to choose. That’s not the point. But neither is fungibility.

It’s not about Planned Parenthood using fungibility to break federal law — it’s about government’s heavy hand creating more hoops for women to jump through.

And it’s not about saving forever-fungible tax dollars — it’s about weakening a strong campaign contributor to Democrats.

Actually, those sound like shell games too.