The end of the fiscal year is just two weeks away, but neither chamber has released an appropriations bill to fund the government past Sept. 30. Republican leaders, however, hope to remove a key barrier to getting agreement among their ranks.
Despite the desire of Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to avoid government shutdown drama, they have yet to settle on a strategy for preventing one while satisfying hardline conservatives who say they will not vote for any spending bill that provides money for Planned Parenthood . Although the House will vote on two abortion bills this week, a nod to conservatives who insist Congress has to take action after the release of a series of undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood executives discussing the harvesting of fetal tissue, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise is putting a new option on the table.
In an interview with CQ Roll Call Tuesday afternoon, the Louisiana Republican said he was discussing with members the possibility of using the budget reconciliation process to cut off federal funding to Planned Parenthood.
“We’re going to continue meeting with our members when we get back Wednesday and through the weekend until we all come together on a full strategy to go after Planned Parenthood,” Scalise said en route back to Washington, D.C., from his district. “We want to keep the pressure on them.”
"There's no silver bullet," he continued, refusing to rule out defunding language in an appropriations vehicle. But he emphasized that “if one of the objectives is to get a bill on President Obama’s desk that defunds Planned Parenthood, then budget reconciliation is the one way to ensure that happens," adding, “This is the most surefire way.”
In the Senate, most bills need a 60-vote threshold to move forward. Reconciliation measures only require a simple majority for passage.
Reconciliation bills, which are limited to measures that would result in changes in revenue and spending, can only be pursued once both chambers agree to a budget resolution.
Having passed the joint budget resolution earlier this year, GOP lawmakers faced the question of what to use the reconciliation process for. Many have advocating gutting the Affordable Care Act, for instance.
Scalise said defunding Planned Parenthood through reconciliation would not preclude that same bill from also repealing Obamacare. He would not say specifically whom he had briefed on his proposal, or whether other GOP leaders were looped in, but he did say he had spoken to members of three committees of jurisdiction: Education and the Workforce, Ways and Means, and Energy and Commerce.
“Obamacare repeal is still on the table and the primary objective of budget reconciliation,” Scalise stressed. “The two can be combined if that’s the route we choose.”
He has not yet taken his idea to the Senate.
The big question is whether Republicans would be satisfied with a hypothetical reconciliation process or are willing to be firm and shut down the government over a CR that has Planned Parenthood money in it.
Democrats are already racing to tag Republicans as the party of government shutdown. On Tuesday, the Bridge Project, an affiliate of American Bridge 21st Century, released a 21-page report of quotes from Republican leadership swearing there won't be another government shutdown.
And while Bridge Project will put most of its focus on Senate Republicans in competitive races in 2016, there are two notable additions to the list: Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul , a GOP presidential candidate who is also up for re-election this cycle, and McConnell.
It's no surprise the effort includes a reminder of McConnell’s declaration in Louisville, Ky., the day after last year’s elections when he said, “Let me make it clear: There will be no government shutdowns and no default on the national debt,” under the new Republican majority he would preside over in the Senate.
In addition to Kentucky, Bridge Project is tailoring its message for Arizona, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
And the Senate Majority PAC, the political action committee associated with Minority Leader Harry Reid , D-Nev., is gearing up as well, sending an email blast to supporters Tuesday featuring a ticking clock animation with a dire warning about there being just 16 days until a shutdown.
“Right-wing extremists, led by Sen. Ted Cruz , are 16 DAYS away from forcing a total government shutdown unless Planned Parenthood is defunded,” the email says.
On the political side, though, some Republicans argue that the electoral impact of the 2013 shutdown wasn't so bad for the GOP: The party picked up more than a dozen seats in the House and nine in the Senate.
But it's unclear how much of a factor the shutdown played. For one, the 2013 shutdown was followed by the botched rollout of Obamacare's website.
The Senate gains could have been the result of which seats were up for re-election. And as bad as the map was for Democrats in 2014, it's far worse for Republicans in 2016.
Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.
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