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Senate GOP Not Deterred on Planned Parenthood, Obamacare

Lee said he was encouraged by the emerging reconciliation measure. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

It's all systems go for the Senate GOP's effort to defund Planned Parenthood and upend the Affordable Care Act.  

Republican senators emerged from a conference meeting Monday evening generally enthused by the effort to gut as much of the health care law as is feasible under the chamber's budget reconciliation rules.  

And last Friday's shooting at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado did not change plans to also use the reconciliation bill to halt Medicaid funding for organizations that provide abortion services. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid reiterated that Democrats would stand against such a course of action. "Republicans in Congress have made it their mission to defund Planned Parenthood, which would irreparably damage this health provider's care," the Nevada Democrat said Monday. "Republicans have insisted on votes to strip Planned Parenthood of its federal funding on two different occasions, neither of which was successful. But they're still trying: Republicans want to stop Medicaid reimbursement for Planned Parenthood."  

Despite Democratic stances, if all Republicans stick together, the reconciliation bill, which is not subject to a filibuster, would pass.  

As he left the meeting, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said he was "very encouraged" by the emerging proposal that would roll back more of the Affordable Care Act than the version of the bill passed by the House. The chamber's parliamentarian is expected to review the finished product Tuesday and debate could start soon after.  

Lee joined with presidential hopefuls Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida in reacting negatively to the House-passed bill earlier this month. If the trio vote for the package, the GOP's route to 51 votes is easier.  

“I think it’s going to pass. I have a bit of a sense that people are feeling better about it, some of the people who have concerns," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.  

If Republicans do succeed in mustering 51 votes for the final bill, the House could then take up the amended package or go to a conference, eventually getting a measure to President Barack Obama for a certain veto.  

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said the effort to craft the Senate's language has focused on complying with the Senate's Byrd rule that stipulates what can go in a reconciliation package and avert traditional procedural hurdles like the filibuster.  

"We are going to do more, repeal more of Obamacare than the House did," the Texas Republican told reporters, adding it would "place accountability where it belongs  with the president."  

The package is expected to undercut the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion. In Senate Majority Leader McConnell's home state of Kentucky, GOP Gov.-elect Matt Bevin has pledged to reverse the program.  

The Planned Parenthood component could make it more difficult for Republicans like Mark S. Kirk of Illinois and Susan Collins of Maine to support the final package.  

Just ahead of the GOP meeting, Collins told reporters she, "would like to see a much more targeted approach. But I'm looking at everything."  

The budget law governing the reconciliation process provides for 20 hours of debate, followed by a series of stacked votes on amendments on the subject matter at hand — the infamous "vote-a-rama."  

That means Republicans, especially those running for the White House, could tinker with the plan on the Senate floor while Democrats could force votes on striking the Planned Parenthood defunding language. As with the bill itself, though, those amendments must be scrubbed to comply with the narrow rules to get a chance at a simple-majority vote.  

The Monday meeting in the Senate kicked off a hectic work period leading up to Christmas on both sides of the Capitol. Conference reports on both a transportation bill and an education proposal rewriting the No Child Left Behind law are on the tentative agenda, along with a package of tax provisions and an omnibus spending bill to keep the government funded past Dec. 11.  

Earlier in the day, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., did not rule out an extra rider against organizations like Planned Parenthood coming up during the spending debate, but he did not expect government funding to lapse in the approach to Christmas.  

"An omni is a very big bill. It deals with a lot of issues and everything the government funds. And I expect there will be a healthy debate on every place government spends money," McCarthy told reporters.

Asked if there could be a shutdown over the issue, McCarthy responded, "I do not see a shutdown happening." When asked about McCarthy's comments and the possibility the Planned Parenthood issue could reappear in the spending fight, Cornyn pointed to the reality of counting votes in the Senate. "We told people that we would use reconciliation because it didn't require 60 votes; it requires 51 votes to do what we could to defund Planned Parenthood and stop this atrocious practice of selling fetal body parts," Cornyn said. "That's what we're going to follow through on." Bridget Bowman, Matthew Fleming and Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.