Lawmakers on the activist right call a leadership proposal to defund Planned Parenthood a farce. By Rachael Bade 09/18/15, 02:01 PM EDT
Republican leaders who are eyeing a rarely deployed, fast-track budget procedure as a way to defund Planned Parenthood and stave off a government shutdown appear to be in for a rude awakening.
The idea is aimed at placating conservatives by giving them a way to pass legislation to strip Planned Parenthood of its funding and decouple the issue from the entire federal budget. But conservatives are balking at the proposal to use the majority-vote reconciliation process, calling it a “ruse” that, in the end, would leave Planned Parenthood’s federal funding intact and amount to little more than a feel-good exercise.
Even if Republicans used reconciliation to get a bill to President Barack Obama’s desk, he would veto it, they note.
“The American people aren’t interested in a show vote; they want to actually get it done,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said in a brief interview about the potential strategy. “Setting it up for the president to veto doesn’t solve the problem.”
“The feeling about the reconciliation thing is that it’s just political posturing,” said conservative Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) off the House floor. “It doesn’t move the needle.”
Conservatives say the reconciliation plan, floated to House and Senate Republicans in closed-door sessions this week, wouldn’t force Obama to the negotiating table like a government shutdown — or the threat of one — would. And they’re not backing off demands that any government funding bill defund Planned Parenthood, which is at the center of the budget debate amid accusations that the organization unlawfully sold fetal tissue.
Another big problem is that conservatives have heard this pitch before. A number of them, particularly members of the House Freedom Caucus, backed the GOP budget earlier this year because leadership said it was the only way congressional Republicans could get an Obamacare repeal vote to the president’s desk.
But leaders haven’t followed through.
“They also said, ‘By God, we’ll do [health care] repeal [with reconciliation]’ — nobody laughed out loud, but they could have,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), noting that nothing came of it. “Reconciliation is not a must-pass bill, so if you’re going to do it [defund Planned Parenthood], you’ve got to do it” through the larger budget bill.
A series of undercover videos depicting Planned Parenthood officials allegedly discussing the illegal sale of fetal tissue has thrown a wrench into GOP leadership’s vow to avoid another government shutdown at all costs. Republicans in 2013 felt the brunt of the blowback when the government shuttered for 16 days because of GOP demands that a must-pass appropriations package defund Obamacare.
House leadership has been holding a series of “listening” sessions about what they can do to avoid a second shutdown. The clock is ticking: Congress must pass a short-term funding bill called a continuing resolution, or CR, by Sept. 30, when government funding will run dry.
The House in recent days held a series of votes on anti-abortion bills and legislation aimed at the federal money Planned Parenthood receives. But they’re all expected to stall in the Senate, with its 60-vote threshold and the need for Democratic support.
That’s why GOP leaders are weighing reconciliation, which allows for passage on a simple majority vote. In theory, the plan would allow Republicans to strip about $390 million worth of mandatory spending for Planned Parenthood through Medicaid reimbursements.
Many Republicans, including Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada and Rep. Jim Jordan, the Freedom Caucus chairman, are cool to the idea because they hoped to use the fast-track method to repeal Obamacare at some point and there are questions about whether it could be deployed for both purposes.
“We had promised our constituents we would use reconciliation to repeal Obamacare,” Heller said.
“That’s why I voted for the budget in the first place,” echoed Jordan, noting that using reconciliation in this instance still wouldn’t solve the problem of conservatives being philosophically opposed to voting for a budget bill that funds Planned Parenthood. “Are you going to let money continue to go to an organization that did what they did? That’s the fundamental question. I don’t see how reconciliation changes that fact.”
Some wonder whether it’s even feasible to use reconciliation because of budget rules that require its prime target to be deficit reduction, not social policy issues. Although a repeal of Planned Parenthood funding would save a small amount of money, the Senate parliamentarian could rule the savings to be a mere side effect rather than an actual money-saver, blocking the plan entirely.
“Reconciliation is reserved for provisions included with the purpose of reducing the deficit,” wrote Paul Winfree, former Senate Budget Committee Republican staffer, in an op-ed on the idea. The Planned Parenthood reconciliation proposal “clearly does not meet … the test.”
Even if lawmakers could find a way to do it, conservatives worry the Senate might backpedal when the time came to move the bill — particularly given the number of moderate Republicans up for reelection in swing states next year. The Senate GOP could lose only three votes to pass a reconciliation bill on a majority vote.
And even if all these potential roadblocks never emerged, many conservatives still believe reconciliation won’t get them to “yes” on a “clean” CR.
“I’m all for doing everything we can that counts,” said Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.). “I don’t object to it as a plan but as a substitute for the CR. I don’t see how we fund Planned Parenthood one week and defund it the next. People will see through that ruse.”
“Budget reconciliation looks more like it’s just having the president veto something,” added Rep. Mark Meadows, the North Carolina Republican who has threatened to force a vote on ousting Rep. John Boehner as speaker. “[T]hat doesn’t always produce results.”