As the deadline to fund the government approaches, the House GOP leadership is floating a new plan that would allow members to rail against Planned Parenthood funding but avoid a government shutdown over the issue. The question is whether anti-abortion hardliners would sign on to a maneuver that has no chance of actually defunding the reproductive rights organization and wouldn’t guarantee the political fireworks of a shutdown.
The route being hinted at by the House GOP leadership team this week would keep the government open past the Sept. 30 deadline through a stop-gap spending measure. The so-called “clean continuing resolution” would keep government spending levels at their current levels (Planned Parenthood funding included). But then to appease the hardliners, the leadership would push through a separate budget measure under “reconciliation” rules which would defund Planned Parenthood separately and could not be filibustered in the Senate.
This plan, still under consideration but emerging as a real alternative, would achieve a much-desired conservative goal: force Obama to grapple with Planned Parenthood funding directly, by either signing or vetoing it. But it would not force Obama to chose between funding the government and funding Planned Parenthood, a catch-22 that conservatives have been eager to put him in for weeks, despite’s Obama assurance he would veto any legislation that defunded Planned Parenthood.
The idea was first raised publicly earlier this week by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), the House majority whip, who in a press conference Thursday called it “a method that can actually put a bill on President Obama’s desk with 51 votes in the Senate to stop this horrific practice.”
Unlike typical legislation — like the bill to place a year-long moratorium on Planned Parenthood funding the House is voting on this week — budget reconciliation measures do not require a 60-vote cloture motion to advance in the Senate, as along as the measure reduces the federal deficit. That means Senate Democrats could not filibuster a budget reconciliation measure targeting Planned Parenthood.
Leadership presented the move to members in a conference meeting Wednesday evening, Politico reported, and on Thursday House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) called using reconciliation to attack Planned Parenthood “a distinct possibility.”
The problem for Republicans is that Obama would still be able to veto the bill, and they lack the votes in the Senate to override the veto. So the question remains whether the conservatives railing for a shutdown would back a plan they know would ultimately fail.
“It would be premature for me to say I am going to vote for or against a measure that’s reconciliation,” said Rep. John Flemming (R-LA), who signed a letter opposing any spending bill that funds Planned Parenthood. “If reconciliation defunds Planned Parenthood, that’s a step in the right direction because at least it gets it on the president’s desk.”
According to Stan Collender, a federal budget expert and executive vice president at Qorvis MSL Group, leadership would probably need to push through the stopgap spending measure first, because the deadline to fund the government is shorter than the time it would take to put together a budget reconciliation measure. That means leadership would have to convince the recalcitrant members to back a spending resolution that includes Planned Parenthood on the condition the reconciliation measure attacking it would come later.
“Do you a vote for a continuing resolution with only a promise?” Collender said Thursday in an interview with TPM.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) expressed her own skepticism of the plan in a press conference Thursday.
“I’d be interested to see if they would take it to reconciliation knowing that we can sustain a veto, because they really want to shut down government,” she said.