By Alexander Bolton - 03/18/11 12:28 AM EDT
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Thursday drew a firm line with Republicans, declaring that a controversial Planned Parenthood measure will not be included in any deal on the budget.
Reid’s warning, coupled with the GOP’s insistence that taxpayer dollars should not fund Planned Parenthood, increase the chances of a government shutdown.
Flanked by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Reid spoke to reporters immediately after the Senate voted 87-13 to pass legislation funding the government through April 8. Nine Republicans, three Democrats and Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) voted against the measure, which cuts $6 billion from the federal budget.
Members of both parties say a long-term deal must be reached before the April 8 deadline, vowing to vote against another stopgap.
Democrats argue that stripping Planned Parenthood of funds would deprive low-income women of family-planning counseling and cancer screenings. Republicans and groups on the right claim that the government should not be in the business of funding an organization that performs abortions. They also note Planned Parenthood has been plagued by a recent scandal, adding it is the perfect time to cut off its federal funds.
Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), who crafted the Planned Parenthood measure, has repeatedly said “it’s time to pick a fight” with Democrats over the budget, strongly making the case for his amendment. A Pence spokesman declined to comment on Reid’s remarks.
Democratic aides familiar with the talks say that the Planned Parenthood measure is one of a long list of policy riders that could derail a bipartisan deal.
Reid said he reviewed the list of amendments attached to the House-passed bill and found several unacceptable.
“Those that I focused on are not only no, but hell no,” Reid said.
Another policy measure that critics call a poison pill — one that has received less attention than the Planned Parenthood language — is a provision that would reinstate the so-called Mexico City policy, which bars non-governmental organizations that receive federal funds from promoting abortions.
“I think they could create real significant problems for this budget and they should be out,” Schumer said of the conservative policy riders. “This is not a debate on abortion or net neutrality or clean air. It’s a debate about the budget.”
Schumer said if “the House cannot go forward without these riders, it’s going to create real problems and make it very difficult to get a budget.”
Reid indicated on Thursday that he was open to some of the 67 amendments included as part of the House bill, though he declined to be specific.
Nineteen Senate Democrats sent a letter to Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday pledging to defeat Republican efforts to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funds for the rest of the year.
The senators say the rider would “effectively shut down health centers that serve 3 million women each year and provide nearly 1 million lifesaving screenings for cervical cancer, more than 830,000 breast exams and nearly 4 million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.”
Aides to Reid and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) met for an hour and a half Wednesday evening to discuss a compromise.
Reid on Thursday declined to comment on those talks. Boehner’s office has said it will not negotiate through the press.
Meanwhile, Biden has taken a more hands-on role since returning from a trip to Finland, Russia and Moldova. Democrats on Capitol Hill last week grumbled about the trip abroad, especially after President Obama tapped Biden to be the Democrats’ lead negotiator.
Biden spent much of Wednesday with White House budget director Jack Lew and National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling discussing the administration’s budget strategy, according to an aide familiar with his schedule.
Biden attended the annual St. Patrick’s Day lunch on Capitol Hill and worked out of his office in the Senate on Thursday, making phone calls to Republicans and Democrats on both sides of the Capitol to work out a budget deal.
A Senate Democratic source close to the negotiations said Biden’s office had been involved in the talks but that Biden himself had not taken much of a personal role before Wednesday.
Most of the negotiating has taken place between Reid and Boehner, and Lew has taken the lead for the administration — at least before Wednesday — according to the source.
Senate Democrats say they are becoming increasingly pessimistic about striking a deal with House Republicans. Reid has yet to inform members of his caucus of any concessions Boehner and other GOP leaders might be willing to accept.
“It looks like we’re headed for an impasse because the other side doesn’t want to budge an inch,” Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) said of House Republicans. “I’m starting to feel a sense of inevitability” about a possible government shutdown.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said, “Democrats have in my view been flexible, and some Republicans are showing some willingness to be flexible, but the core leadership in the House doesn’t seem to want to budge much.”
Republican conservatives and centrists say it will be difficult for Boehner to come down from the $61 billion in cuts House Republicans initially demanded.
Conservatives point out that $61 billion is about $10 billion less than the amount of debt the federal government accumulates in a single day. If Boehner were to compromise down from what many conservatives already say is too modest a cut, he would likely attract sharp criticism from the Tea Party.
“It’s not acceptable to me, and I don’t think it’s going to be acceptable to a lot of the [House Republican] freshmen,” said Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a member of the Senate Tea Party Caucus. “That’s been the danger all along, to get involved in this negotiation between bad and worse.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), another member of the Tea Party Caucus, has proposed spending cuts of $500 billion and $200 billion over the next year.
Sen. Dick Lugar (Ind.), a centrist Republican facing a Tea Party-backed primary challenge, has said GOP leaders should cut more than $61 billion.
“If you’re going to go through the exertion to cut that much, it should be more substantial,” he said Thursday.
Asked if it was politically feasible for Boehner to accept less than $61 billion in cuts, Lugar responded: “Probably not.”