The focus of the spending debate on Capitol Hill may be over how big the cuts should be, but House conservatives are threatening to sink a final deal on other grounds.
More than a dozen House Republicans confirmed Wednesday that their vote on any long-term continuing resolution could well hinge on whether it includes language to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which offers abortion services.
“I think it is critical that they put it in there for our Members,” Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (Ohio) said.
“Look, I think the White House and the Senate need to understand Americans don’t like their tax dollars being used to go to an organization like Planned Parenthood that is being used to take the life of unborn kids,” Jordan said, noting that he had made that case to Republican leaders and that they “understand how important it is.”
Rep. Mike Pence, the author of the amendment to last month’s House-passed continuing resolution on funding for Planned Parenthood, went a step further: He called on House Republicans to “pick a fight” over the issue.
“I think we need to make a stand, I think we need to pick a fight and we need to fight for the budget cuts and the policy riders that are at the center of H.R. 1,” Pence said. The Indiana Republican said he is continuing to talk to his colleagues about the importance of keeping the abortion language in the final, broader bill.
House and Senate leaders and the White House have begun initial talks on a long-term spending plan, but so far they have not come to an agreement. House Republicans passed a measure last month that cut $61 billion in spending; Senate Democrats proposed an alternative that cut $10.5 billion. Both measures failed in the Senate on Wednesday.
House Republicans are also pushing for separate language that would ban the District of Columbia from using any federal funds for abortion services.
The showdown over abortion funding and Planned Parenthood comes as GOP leaders are starting to craft a second, short-term stopgap spending measure to avoid a government shutdown. Congress passed an initial short-term CR last week that keeps the government operating through March 18. A second short-term measure will be needed if the two sides can’t strike a deal before then.
Michael Steel, spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), declined Wednesday to discuss how leadership is planning to deal with conservative concerns over abortion funding.
“At this point, our position is [to support] H.R. 1, which includes those provisions,” Steel said in a statement. “We’re still waiting to see a plan to cut spending and help create jobs from the Democrats who run Washington.”
While House conservatives said they would show some flexibility over whether the next short-term CR includes the Planned Parenthood language, several said it must be in the final package.
“Short-term, I think there’s been patience given to the leadership from those who care greatly about this, but in the long-term CR I think it’s going to have to be in there,” freshman Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) said, adding that patience was “wearing thin” among Members about the prospect of passing several short-term spending measures.
“It’s a priority for our Conference; 240 Members voted for this,” Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) said. “This is very important, and it’s on the table.”
The Family Research Council is taking it a step further. It believes the Planned Parenthood language is so critical that it plans to score votes on both short-term and long-term CRs to try to convince Members to keep the language intact.
“We gave them a pass on the first short-term CR, but we think it’s about time that they stand up,” FRC spokesman Tom McClusky said. “It’s a matter of if not now, then when.”
Americans for Tax Reform is also in the process of circulating a letter supporting Pence’s amendment in the CR, according to the group’s spokesman, John Kartch.
Even so, some House Republicans said the level of spending cuts is still the No. 1 priority.
Rep. Mike Simpson, who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior and Environment, said, “To me, the important thing is to get spending down.”
The Idaho Republican noted the other GOP priorities may not make the final cut either, such as language limiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, to get a deal that funds the government through the end of the year.
“If some of the language has to get left behind and picked up later, that’s how it’ll have to be,” he said.
Democrats are already preparing for the Planned Parenthood language fight.
Rep. Diana DeGette (Colo.), a staunch abortion-rights supporter who whipped votes against Pence’s amendment last month, said she worked with Senate Democrats to kill the Planned Parenthood language in their version of the spending plan.
DeGette said most Democrats would not support any CR that contains abortion funding language, and she blasted Republicans for pursuing a conservative social cause in a critical spending bill. Ten moderate Democrats, including Reps. Heath Shuler (N.C.), Dan Lipinski (Ill.) and Mike Ross (Ark.), voted in favor of the Pence language in the House-passed long-term CR.
“I think that the No. 1 issue Americans care about is jobs, and to somehow get job creation and passing a CR tangled up with abortion politics is really irresponsible on their part,” DeGette said.
DeGette also predicted Republicans would push two more abortion-related measures sponsored by Pitts and Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) in the coming weeks. Both measures would prohibit the use of federal funds for abortions, and they could be brought up before the upcoming April recess.
“We’re concerned about this road these extreme members are taking us down,” DeGette said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.