With all eyes on the House of Representatives right now as the likely arena for a battle over Planned Parenthood, a small group of Senate Republicans who want to slash the organization’s funding aren’t bowing out of the fight.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul are still carrying the defunding banner, despite warnings from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that the fight is over. McConnell said last month that simple Senate math and the virtual guarantee of a presidential veto mean conservatives will have to wait for another Congress to take action against the women’s health organization and abortion provider.
Though small in number, Cruz and Paul carry a big microphone as GOP presidential contenders and tea party favorites. Undeterred by McConnell’s calculation, they’ve turned up the heat this week as they try to attract evangelical voters and gain traction in a crowded primary race.
On Thursday, Paul headlined an anti-Planned Parenthood rally outside the Capitol, where he called for separate votes on Planned Parenthood funding — which would force Democrats to secure 60 votes in the Senate to keep federal dollars flowing to the women’s health group — and a stopgap measure for all other government funding.
“Some are saying we don’t have enough votes to defund Planned Parenthood. That gets it exactly wrong. You have to have 60 votes to affirmatively fund Planned Parenthood. So don’t accept the notion that we have to get to 60. The other side has to get to 60,” he said.
Paul told reporters afterwards that he wouldn’t vote for a continuing resolution that includes any money for the organization.
Congress needs to pass a continuing resolution before government funding expires Oct. 1, and conservatives are seeking to use that leverage to target Planned Parenthood, knowing that a standalone measure to defund the group has almost no chance of clearing the Senate and certainly not the White House. They want to send a CR with an anti-Planned Parenthood rider to President Barack Obama’s desk and dare him to veto a bill that would keep the government lights on.
But they’ve offered few solutions for getting such a measure through the Senate, where Democrats are mostly united in defense of Planned Parenthood. At a press conference Wednesday, leaders of the conservative House Freedom Caucus suggested McConnell use the so-called "nuclear option” to circumvent the upper chamber’s traditional 60-vote threshold for voting on legislation.
Paul’s suggestion of a separate measure to fund Planned Parenthood aims to flip the script on one possible course of action being considered by GOP leaders in the House: Holding a separate vote on a standalone measure on funding for Planned Parenthood and then passing a “clean” CR to avoid a shutdown.
Conservatives have denounced that idea as a pointless show vote. Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said Wednesday that no decisions about a CR have been made yet.
Cruz, meanwhile, is circulating a letter to be sent to McConnell in the coming weeks, doubling down on his intention to use “any and every procedural tool available” to defund Planned Parenthood, as he told reporters before the August recess.
“We urge you not to schedule or facilitate the consideration of any legislation that authorizes or appropriates federal dollars for Planned Parenthood,” a draft of the letter reads. Cruz’s office said the senator is still seeking signatures from his colleagues before sending the letter to McConnell.
Paul’s remarks came not even an hour after a group of House Democrats sought to offer their own fix to end the funding impasse.
Senate candidate and Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and senior appropriators Nita M. Lowey of New York, Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Barbara Lee of California introduced legislation aimed at preventing an October shutdown and raising the discretionary spending caps.
The legislation, which was announced at an event sponsored by the coalition group NDD United, would call on Congress to immediately convene bipartisan, bicameral budget negotiations with the goal of raising equally the defense and nondefense spending caps for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 and agreeing on offsets.
If a majority of the negotiating team is unable to come to a consensus before the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year, the current caps (PL 112-25) would be automatically raised to match the president's requested levels — which blew past the limits by roughly $75 billion for fiscal 2016.
“Americans expect Congress to govern responsibly, and this legislation will allow us to avoid a shutdown and make critical investments in our country that support families, strengthen our national security and boost our economy,” Van Hollen said.
The legislation has virtually no chance of getting enacted into law, since the GOP is deeply divided over the spending caps.