House Republican leaders have yet to settle on a strategy for preventing a government shutdown and satisfying hardline conservatives who want to defund Planned Parenthood — but Majority Whip Steve Scalise is putting a new option on the table.
Scalise told CQ Roll Call Tuesday he is discussing with members the possibility of using budget reconciliation — a fast-track process that would allow Republicans to bypass the threat of a filibuster and force a bill through the Senate — to zero out federal dollars for Planned Parenthood. The national network of reproductive health centers that also provide abortions is under fire from conservatives after the release of a series of undercover videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing the harvesting of fetal tissues.
Scalise cautioned there’s no guarantee his plan would succeed. “There’s no silver bullet,” the Louisiana Republican said.
And he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of putting Planned Parenthood defunding language in a must-pass continuing resolution — a strategy that many conservatives have argued is the only way to tie President Barack Obama’s hands.
Scalise brushed aside the proposition that GOP leaders are scrambling to come up with a plan to satisfy conservatives on the Planned Parenthood front in order to avoid what would be the second government shutdown in two years.
“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, himself en route back to Washington, D.C., from his district. “We want to keep the pressure on them.”
The federal government is set to shut down at the end of the month unless the GOP-controlled House and Senate can come to an agreement with the White House on a spending bill.
During his phone interview with CQ Roll Call, Scalise hammered his point home again and again: “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. This is the most surefire way.”
While Scalise can’t promise an override of Obama’s inevitable veto of any bill that scraps funding for Planned Parenthood, budget reconciliation is likely the only legislative route out of the Senate, where Republicans lack the votes to overcome a filibuster.
With a 60-vote threshold for bills to even be brought up for debate on the floor, Senate Democrats have stymied practically every bill passed by the House GOP this Congress. Reconciliation bills, however, only require a simple majority for passage, which could give Senate Republicans an opening for a symbolic victory (the president has promised to veto any attempt to defund Planned Parenthood).
The simple majority-vote concept is especially appealing to congressional Republicans, who want to get things done in the face of partisan gridlock. For months, they have been looking at reconciliation as a powerful new tool in their arsenal that was only made possible by their sweep of Congress in the 2014 midterms.
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, which wasn’t attainable when the House and Senate were controlled by different parties.
Having passed that once-elusive bicameral budget earlier this year, GOP lawmakers are now faced with the reality of what to use the reconciliation process for. They only have one shot per budget cycle and most members have set the Affordable Care Act as their primary target.
Scalise said defunding Planned Parenthood through reconciliation would not preclude that same bill from also repealing Obamacare. He would not say specifically who he had briefed so far on his proposal, or whether other GOP leaders were looped in, but he did say he had spoken to members of the three House committees with jurisdiction to make reconciliation recommendations: 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, he said, yet taken his idea to the Senate.
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