The only thing clear two weeks from the deadline is it will go down to the wire.
By Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer
09/17/15, 08:14 PM EDT
The same Republicans who campaigned on doing away with legislative crises are careening toward government shutdown in less than two weeks with still no concrete plan to stop it.
It’s not that Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) leadership team is hiding their best hand. They have no trick up their sleeve, no ace in the hole — pick your cliché. Nearly everyone in House and Senate leadership recognizes a simple reality: At some point in the next two weeks, they will move on a bill free of provisions to strip Planned Parenthood of its government funding. It just depends how long it takes, how painful it is and whether Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) team stumbles into their second government shutdown in three years.
Twelve days remain until the government runs out of money, but the House and Senate are scheduled to be in session for just a fraction of that time. The showdown over Planned Parenthood is the epitome of crisis-fueled legislating. Senior Republican lawmakers and aides increasingly believe that the funding fight will come down to three-day dash – Sept. 28 through Sept. 30, the final day of the fiscal year.
Asked Wednesday when his colleagues would get a glimpse at his bill to fund the government, Boehner said, “At some point.”
Several House Republicans lawmakers said they don’t expect to vote before the week of Sept. 30. The House is only scheduled to be in session three days that week before the government runs out of money.
To top it off, the endgame will almost certainly result in a referendum on Boehner’s speakership. He’s favored, but not guaranteed, to survive. But if he does it will be in a further weakened state.
The path the funding fight will take is not yet clear to either Boehner or McConnell, according to senior aides to both men. But it’s shaping up to be extraordinarily messy.
Top aides to McConnell and Boehner have been in close contact, discussing who will move first to pass a funding bill in their chamber. But the House has been paralyzed with indecision. A pack of House Republicans – mostly on Steve Scalise’s (R-La.) whip team – are worried about the expectations that will be set by passing a funding bill that strips funding from Planned Parenthood, only to relent in the end. Yet other forces in the conference want a vote on such a continuing resolution – and it’s possible, yet hardly certain, that GOP leadership will set one up for next week.
House Republicans want to be first to move a funding bill, but McConnell is setting up his own process – a sign of how slow the House has been to take action.
McConnell is nearly certain to bring up a so-called CR to fund the government next week that includes the language to defund Planned Parenthood, but Democrats will block its consideration. McConnell will then move a funding bill free of legislative riders. Republican leaders believe conservatives, like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) will block it, but McConnell will be able to send it to the House by Sept. 29 at the latest. The Senate’s plan could be put on hold if the House gets its act togther, aides caution.
The House is also trying to send other anti-abortion measures to Obama’s desk and are considering standalone bills, including one to defund Planned Parenthood that would ride alongside the government funding bill, but not impede its passage in the Senate. If the House hasn’t passed a “clean” bill by Sept. 29, it will have one day to avoid a government shutdown by passing the Senate’s bill, or a comparable measure.
“At some point in time you have to face reality,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), a member of the Appropriations Committee who is close to Boehner, speaking about the need to pass a clean bill. “People say, ‘Oh, you didn’t even try to do x.’ There are some things you can’t do. We tried to repeal Obamacare 50-some odd times in the House and guess what? It didn’t work. We probably should have figured that out after two or three.”
House Republican leaders, meanwhile, are working behind the scenes to try to calm the troops. McCarthy and Scalise have privately told Republicans that they will try to use the majority-vote reconciliation process to deny funding to the women’s health group — they say that is the best way to get a bill to President Barack Obama’s desk. GOP leaders have urged anti-abortion groups to speak out against a shutdown.
At a closed party-wide meeting at the Capitol Hill Club on Thursday morning, GOP leaders presented lawmakers with an internal National Republican Congressional Committee poll showing overwhelming public opposition to shutting down the government to stop funding Planned Parenthood. The poll, conducted in 18 swing districts by the GOP firm The Tarrance Group, showed 64 percent of respondents would not favor a shutdown to try to stop the organization’s federal funding, compared to 30 percent who favor shutting the government. Among those who had seen videos allegedly showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing fetal tissue sales, 55 percent did not favor a shutdown, while 37 percent thought it was the right move.
“We want to be more strategic because I think we are on more solid ground right now than we have before in raising these issues,” Rep. John Shimkus said (R-Ill.), who has a long record opposing abortion rights. “But there are some that say, ‘Not a penny.’ So, leadership is trying to work it out.”
While much of this fight is about the government’s purported support of abortion, there’s a hefty anti-Boehner sentiment that’s spurring the opposition to the leadership’s plans. After Congress clears a clean government-funding bill, Boehner and McCarthy aides expect a hard-line conservative to put forward a motion that would, if successful, force the Ohio Republican from the speaker’s chair.
Republican leaders do not expect the so-called motion to vacate, first filed by North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, to succeed. They say they would handily defeat it if it came to the floor. “Team Boehner,” as it is called internally, is not actively preparing for the vote by whipping support in the GOP conference.
But some of his allies privately say they have informally secured assurances from Democrats that they would support keeping Boehner as speaker, or vote present, which would lower the vote threshold. If all Democrats voted present, Boehner could win with as few as 124 Republicans. Recently, Boehner has even told some Republicans privately he would like to run for another term as speaker.
Those looking to oust Boehner have not put forward an alternative to serve as speaker, and senior GOP leadership aides say the hardliners have no alternative for when the Senate and president reject their plan to defund Planned Parenthood. For example, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) said Florida Rep. Daniel Webster could be the next speaker because he got “12 times as many votes as Kevin McCarthy.” McCarthy did not campaign for the job earlier this year. Webster garnered 12 votes total.
“The Sept. 30 crisis is a crisis of our leadership’s making,” Massie said. “They refuse to pass appropriations bills. Even the CR is not the way the government is supposed to be run. The American public knows that. What we need to do is get back to regular order.”
–John Bresnahan contributed to this report