WASHINGTON — House and Senate leaders hatched their plans Thursday to avoid a politically risky shutdown next week, moving to separate an acrimonious battle over abortion from a must-pass bill to keep government agencies open.
After Pope Francis addressed a joint meeting of Congress, Speaker John Boehner told his leadership team he would immediately put a plan to defund Planned Parenthood into legislative vehicle known on Capitol Hill as “reconciliation,” which cannot be filibustered in the Senate.
The speaker’s team argues that by putting the provision in a reconciliation bill, there’s a good chance it will be approved in both chambers of Congress and it will force Obama to use his veto pen. It would also allow them to pass a stop-gap measure free of Planned Parenthood restrictions before the Oct. 1 deadline to keep the government open.
The move is bound to anger conservatives, and Boehner will pitch the plan Friday morning to a closed-door conference meeting.
Senate Dems block bill to defund Planned Parenthood
The push comes after Senate Democrats filibustered a spending bill to defund Planned Parenthood Thursday, with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell planning to move a clean stopgap bill Monday evening.
The measure, which included the anti-abortion language, needed 60 votes to advance but failed, 52 to 47.
The bill, which would have funded the government until Dec. 11, would have also barred money going to Planned Parenthood, the women’s health organization Republicans revile because of the abortion services it provides. Democrats demanded that the bill be stripped of the provision before they consented to fund the government before a critical Oct. 1 deadline.
But McConnell, who acknowledged in advance that the measure would fail, scheduled the vote as part of a complicated series of procedural steps aimed at avoiding the second government shutdown in as many years. McConnell and GOP leaders wanted to show their base that they lack the votes to defund Planned Parenthood, then quickly move on to a measure free of restrictions to the organization in order to keep money flowing to federal agencies.
Late Thursday, McConnell began the procedural process of bringing to the floor a “clean” funding bill — one that doesn’t include any measure to strip Planned Parenthood of funding — to keep the government open until mid-December, pushing final votes until early next week on the eve of the funding deadline. Once the Senate passes a funding bill, it will leave the matter to the unpredictable House.
Republican leaders are performing the delicate dance largely because of conservative outrage to edited Planned Parenthood videos secretly taped by an anti-abortion group, allegedly showing officials from the organization discussing the sale of fetal tissue.
But already, GOP leaders are facing intensifying pressure from their right flank not to cave. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, accused GOP leaders of “surrender.” Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, who chairs the Republican Study Committee, said voting on a Senate bill to fund the government is “not enough,” adding that the bill “reads like (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid’s wish list.” And Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-South Carolina, won the support of 30 of his colleagues to oppose any bill that funds Planned Parenthood. After meeting with Boehner with four other conservatives Thursday afternoon, Mulvaney said that his mind had not been changed and predicted that the Ohio Republican would lose 50 GOP votes by moving a clean spending bill.
The No. 2 House Democrat, Steny Hoyer, blasted Republicans who control Congress for running this debate right up to the deadline again.
“It’s a terrible, inefficient, wrong way to run the government of the United States,” Hoyer told reporters Wednesday, noting leaders have known for months that a bill would need to attract bipartisan support, but the GOP hasn’t reached out to Democrats.
Pressure builds on Boehner
The pressure is most acute on Boehner, who is facing a revolt from the conservative House Freedom Caucus over his leadership position. Some are warning they will try to force him out of the speakership if he allows federal funding for Planned Parenthood, a battle that could prompt an unprecedented fight on the House floor for the Ohio Republican to keep his job.
In a sign of how concerned House GOP leaders are about the vote, Boehner summoned to his office some of the conservatives who are threatening him. Mulvaney, Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Arizona, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wisconsin, and Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho arrived at the speaker’s office Thursday afternoon. On his way in, Mulvaney said he felt like he was being called “to the principal’s office.”
The reconciliation has already drawn scorn from the right, but a growing number of House Republican freshmen have called on the GOP to take the threat of shutdown off the table. A letter sent to Republican House members from 11 freshmen said their party should avoid and “unnecessary and harmful government shutdown” and support a short-term funding bill.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, told CNN’s Jake Tapper he didn’t believe forcing a shutdown over defunding Planned Parenthood was the right strategy, instead favoring defunding the organization through the reconciliation process.
“There are better ways in getting at this issue, defunding this barbaric process and this group that does this, than involving the shutdown issue,” Ryan said.
Tennessee GOP Rep. Diane Black, who authored legislation that passed the House last week to put a one-year moratorium on Planned Parenthood’s funding, told reporters after meeting with top GOP leaders, “I want to see whatever goes to the President’s desk. I want the President to have to veto whatever we send to him.” But Black wasn’t sure she could vote for a funding bill that didn’t also strip out taxpayer money for Planned Parenthood.
In addition to moving efforts to defund Planned Parenthood through the budget process, House GOP leaders also plan to send additional anti-abortion legislation to the Senate and try to put pressure on Senate Republicans to vote on these bills, according to a senior House GOP leadership aide. Leaders are also stressing that multiple committees will continue to investigate Planned Parenthood’s practices.