GOP Leaders’ Dilemma: Rebuff Conservatives Or Risk A Government Shutdown

Just months ago, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) seemed to have accepted that accomplishing the basic functions of government required throwing some red meat to his conservative members. But less 100 days away from the election, he is trying to bury a spending bill that rank and file members want to use as a vehicle to gut ‘Obamacare’, end family planning funds, and slash spending on longstanding programs.

The conundrum illustrates GOP leaders’ wariness of reigniting volatile political battles and potentially alienating voters ahead of the November election.The Labor-HHS-Education appropriations legislation isn’t atypical as a negotiating starting-point for House Republicans in the 112th Congress. It passed the Appropriations subcommittee two weeks ago on a party line vote, but a full committee vote has been indefinitely postponed, and GOP leaders don’t expect it to reach the floor.

Boehner said last Thursday he prefers a stopgap measure to fund the government at agreed upon levels through the election — a stark change from just months ago when his caucus was barreling toward another government shutdown threat.

The stalled appropriations bill eliminates all dollars for Title X, the Nixon-enacted family planning fund covers cancer screenings, STD testing and contraception services for women. Planned Parenthood would lose its public funding. In 2012, Title X received $294 million.

A “rider” in the legislation rolls back enforcement of President Obama’s requirement that employer health plans cover birth control without co-pays. Republicans lost ground with women voters earlier this spring after unsuccessfully pushing to repeal the mandate.

Additionally, the bill would reduce funds to state and local governments to combat HIV/AIDS by $100 million from 2012 levels, a 13 percent cut, according to a Democratic aide privy to the accompanying GOP report that hasn’t yet been made public.

Awkwardly, the bill’s nearly $800 million in cuts to Social Security integrity funds are projected to cost taxpayers $5 to $6 billion over time, according to its chief actuary. That’s due to a reduced capacity to ensure that seniors aren’t receiving funds they shouldn’t be.

House Republicans have supported similar cuts and policy riders over the past year and a half — and used them as leverage to extract other concessions from the White House in earlier government funding negotiations. But the political calculus has changed dramatically, and suggest Republican leaders understand that voters would punish them this election year for any more bouts of the sort of brinksmanship that marked 2011.

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