Can’t Break That Shutdown Fever! Boehner Fails To Appease Hardliners

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September 18, 2015 12:35 p.m.
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The week is coming to a close with congressional GOP leaders no closer to a plan to avert a government shutdown at the end of the month.

The latest suggestion from House GOP leaders — pass a stop-gap funding bill with Planned Parenthood funding, then defund it with a separate budget maneuver that would avoid a Senate filibuster and force a presidential veto — has received a cool reception from the conservative congressmen pushing for a shutdown. Meanwhile, Democrats and the president have presented a united front, hoping to use the Republican infighting to their advantage.

The situation reflects a Republican leadership eager to avoid a shutdown, fearing its consequences on the 2016 race, but unsure how to rein in the most extreme elements of its caucus, who see the 2014 GOP congressional victories as a mandate to double-down on the most hardline stances of the party. Complicating the situation further is the abbreviated period lawmakers have to figure out how to break the impasse. With Yom Kippur, a speech by Pope Francis and a visit by the Chinese president interrupting congressional activity next week, only a handful of days on the legislative calendar stand between now and another shutdown.

In the meantime, the House is proceeding with the GOP leadership’s original plan to appease abortion hardliners, The lower chamber is holding votes Friday on two standalone anti-abortion bills that GOP leaders had hoped would be enough of an outlet for Republicans to express their outrage over “sting” videos that purport to show Planned Parenthood is profiting off of aborted fetal tissue harvesting (and claim the group vigorously denies). In a similar move, the Senate scheduled a vote on the 20-week abortion ban for Tuesday.

But since none of the measures will overcome a Democratic filibuster in the Senate, hardliners in the House Freedom Caucus have signaled that would not be enough to assuage them. GOP leaders spent much of the week floating other options to address Planned Parenthood’s funding, including a plan to pass a clean continuing resolution to avert a shutdown and to target Planned Parenthood’s funding separately via so-called budget reconciliation — a procedural maneuver that requires only 51 votes to pass in the Senate.

It’s still unclear whether that effort would be enough to cool shutdown fever. Some of the conservatives who’ve sworn they won’t support any spending bills that include Planned Parenthood funding signaled an openness to the reconciliation plan, while others have remained firmly opposed.

“I think it’s probably just a pretend vote if we know the president is going to veto it,” Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) told TPM Thursday, adding he “absolutely” stands by his promise to only support spending legislation that defunds Planned Parenthood.

Republicans in the Senate have been far more resistant to the idea of a shutdown, and it remains unclear whether any of the various options the House GOP is considering would go anywhere in the Senate.

If House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) can’t pull together enough Republican support to push through his own spending bill, he may be at the mercy of Democrats, who look ready to make their own demands. House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) met with President Obama Thursday afternoon, after which the legislators told reporters that they had agreed to support a clean short-term spending bill with no riders to buy lawmakers more time to hash out a larger budget deal.

In accepting a deal from Democrats, however, Boehner risks another coup attempt by the same group of lawmakers ginning up for a shutdown. His supporters have expressed fear that any compromise will be treated as capitulation and further encourage the coup plotters.

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