House conservatives have spent much of the past three months attempting to force a vote to strip taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood.
But key Republicans aren’t ready to force a government shutdown over it.
After the shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic that left three dead last Friday, it appears Republican leaders are reluctant to risk a fight with the White House and Democrats over the issue on the must-pass spending bill.
“I do not see a shutdown happening,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters at the Capitol on Monday as lawmakers returned to Washington from their Thanksgiving recess.
Congress needs to clear the giant government funding bill by Dec. 11 to avoid a shutdown. As the deadline nears, House and Senate negotiators hope to reach a compromise soon, although McCarthy suggested lawmakers could use one extra week until Dec. 18. (A stopgap measure would be needed to keep the government open in the interim.)
The desire by Republicans not to shut down the government over the emotionally charged abortion issue was seconded by Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, a staunch abortion opponent who acknowledged Monday that a successful effort to defund Planned Parenthood won’t happen on this bill or is likely anytime soon.
“This has been an ongoing issue for years now,” the freshman Republican senator said. “It has to be addressed and it might take years to get that done.”
The effort to strip Medicaid reimbursements to the organization became a must-do for conservatives this fall after videos released by an anti-abortion group earlier this year featured officials from Planned Parenthood discussing the sale of fetal tissue.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said he would stand with Planned Parenthood and prevent GOP efforts to defund it. He also warned Republican leaders against using caustic language that he suggested could lead to violence against abortion clinics.
“We as leaders must be mindful of our words and actions,” Reid said on the Senate floor. Monday “Whipping people into a frenzy of hate and anger while providing easy access to firearms has proven disastrous to our country.”
The Obama administration is warning Republicans not to include controversial policy provisions in the government funding bill.
“I say with some confidence the newly elected Speaker of the House doesn’t want to preside over a government shutdown six weeks into his tenure,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said during a briefing in Paris.
Lankford said the shooting was unlikely to impact the debate this week on defunding Planned Parenthood.
“Obviously the Planned Parenthood folks want to rise up and say we wouldn’t have a shooting if it wasn’t for the mean folks who are talking about defunding Planned Parenthood. I don’t think that plays well, quite frankly,” he said. “It would be like saying we have complaints about education reform in America so there are school shootings. The two are not connected.”
Reconciliation Vote Coming Up
Senate Republicans are taking other steps this week that could ease the pressure to defund Planned Parenthood in the government spending bill. They hope to pass a separate budget bill for next year — called reconciliation — that can be approved on just 51 votes instead of the usual 60 required for major bills in the Senate.
A vote on that measure, which would defund Planned Parenthood and repeal big chunks of Obamacare, is expected by the end of the week, according to Senate GOP aides. While President Obama is sure to veto the bill, Republicans would consider its passage a major accomplishment, one they would tout on the campaign trail.
There has been some question as to whether Senate GOP leaders can get the 51 votes they need because of opposition from some conservatives — like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, both presidential candidates who want a broader Obamacare repeal — and some moderates who favor abortion rights like Mark Kirk of Illinois and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, both of whom are up for re-election in swing states.
Senate Republicans are set to meet Monday night to discuss the reconciliation bill. Senate GOP aides say pressure has been high from the anti-abortion community to approve the reconciliation bill and they anticipate getting enough support to pass it.
Obamacare, Climate Change Riders
McCarthy didn’t rule out that Planned Parenthood language could be added in some fashion to the government funding bill saying, “I expect there to be a healthy debate on every place the government spends money and that’s the way democracy works.”
He made it clear the spending bill would include some mix of policy riders, but declined to describe which ones.
Many conservative Republicans argue the spending bill is their main leverage with the administration, and are floating adding provisions to block implementation of climate change rules, Obamacare, and other Democratic priorities. House Speaker Paul Ryan has not signaled yet which of these he wants to press as negotiators on both sides try to hammer out a deal.
McCarthy also said that after the terror attacks in Paris, “security is becoming the top issue” that he hears about from GOP colleagues.
The No. 2 House GOP leader touted the veto-proof margin on legislation that passed the House before Thanksgiving that would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to certify any refugees from Iraq and Syria don’t pose a security threat. He suggested that refugee measure could be added to the government funding legislation, saying, “that bill needs to pass and become law whichever way it can.”
Before the end of the year, congressional leaders also hope to pass a long-term compromise highway bill, a rewrite of the unpopular No Child Left Behind law, and a series of tax break extensions.