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Democrats Look Past Planned Parenthood, Obamacare Fight

Durbin, D-Ill., speaks as Sen. Patty Murray, left and Reid, right listen during the weekly Senate luncheon news conference on Tuesday. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Democrats won't put up much of a floor fight against Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and gut the Affordable Care Act, aware that it eventually faces a certain veto from President Barack Obama.  

Senators will consider the Planned Parenthood provision and partial rollback of Obama's signature domestic achievement as part of the budget reconciliation process this week, which requires only majority support to pass the chamber.  

That path was set on Tuesday when the Senate parliamentarian's office cleared a GOP amendment to the reconciliation bill that would disable the individual and employer mandates in the health care law by reducing the penalties to zero, according to congressional staff.  

Even without the ability to throw up traditional procedural roadblocks, Democrats still could have jammed up the process with numerous amendments. But they have elected not to do so, and are looking toward other must-pass items. "We’re going to have a very small number (of amendments)," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday. "But they’re going to be good amendments."  

Reid: 'I Feel Good About the Omnibus'

Republican leaders are confident they have majority support for the package, and although they are aware it is likely to be rejected by Obama, they want to put the onus on him.  

"We think it's important to defund Planned Parenthood for all the reasons we discussed over the last month and it is a way to put the measure on the president's desk and that's what we intend to do," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday.  

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he didn't expect too big of a fight over the reconciliation measure, joking that senators are already thinking about their weekend departure.  

"Weekends have a deflating effect that's really remarkable," McCain said.  

Besides, there are other deadlines to consider during the work period before Congress recesses for the holidays. The current reauthorization of the transportation bill expires on Friday. And on Dec. 11, the current continuing resolution funding the government expires.  

Members expect an omnibus spending vehicle to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year, and are speculating about what other measures might hitch a ride in the year-end measure.  

One such addition could be an extension of targeted tax breaks or "extenders" that expired last year. At a minimum, some Senate leaders want to extend the provisions through 2016.  

"It'd be nice to transact these things separately,” Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune, of South Dakota said of the prospect extenders could be attached to the spending bill. "That's the way we prefer to do it, but it's not outside the realm of possibility that some of those things get linked up."  

McConnell Hints at Refugee Rider in Omnibus

Democrats are warning their Republican colleagues over the prospect of poison pill riders. Reid on Tuesday said that the number of riders offered by Republicans had been whittled over the course of the negotiations from around 250 to 100. He said Democrats would consider what ones they could live with once a final package arrived from McConnell and Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis.  

"Seriously, I feel good about them," Reid said of the negotiations. "I think we’ve made progress every day. And I think that unless they are demanding a lot more poison pill riders than we can possibly accept, they’ll close the government.”  

Democrats were quick to dismiss talk of another short-term continuing resolution that would buy members more time past the Dec. 11 deadline.  

"Don't even say that word," Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said. "We're going to do an omnibus bill. Our deadline is Dec. 11, and I don't think we ought to be satisfied with anything less.”  

— Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report .

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