House’s Planned Parenthood fight is problem for GOP senators

A politically charged budget package moving in the House this week is creating a headache for Senate Republicans.

The package, which under budget reconciliation rules cannot be filibustered, will block money for Planned Parenthood and gut ObamaCare.

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The problem: It’s unclear whether Senate Republicans can gather the 51 votes needed to approve it.

Three Senate Republicans are on record as opposing an end to federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

Sen. Mark KirkMark KirkMcConnell: Senate to try to repeal ObamaCare next week GOP senator: Not 'appropriate' to repeal ObamaCare without replacement GOP's repeal-only plan quickly collapses in Senate MORE (Ill.), one of the most vulnerable Republicans in next year’s elections, twice voted against procedural motions on legislation to block the
healthcare group’s funding.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsGOP wrestles with soaring deductibles in healthcare bill Sunday shows preview: Scaramucci makes TV debut as new communication chief The GOP Wonder Women who saved healthcare for 22 million MORE (Maine) has spoken on the Senate floor against defunding the group, though she did back a procedural motion in August that could have led to an up-or-down vote on defunding. She said she only did so on assurances from leadership that it would lead to another measure to maintain funding for Planned Parenthood’s other healthcare services.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiPro-ObamaCare group targets key senators in new ads The GOP Wonder Women who saved healthcare for 22 million Senate heads to new healthcare vote with no clear plan MORE (Alaska) has also backed funding for Planned Parenthood, though she made the same vote in August as Collins based on the same argument.

Murkowski, Collins and Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteOPINION: Democracy will send ISIS to the same grave as communism Kelly Ayotte joins defense contractor's board of directors Week ahead: Comey firing dominates Washington MORE (N.H.) in September all voted against proceeding to a short-term government funding measure that would have cut off Planned
Parenthood, further muddying the issue.

Republicans can only afford to lose three votes in the Senate if Democrats are unified against the budget package, giving them little room for error.

Ayotte, Collins, Kirk and Murkowski declined to say Tuesday whether they would vote for the House package.

“We’re not making news today,” said Kirk.

“I have not supported the defunding [of Planned Parenthood]. I’ve supported the repeal of ObamaCare. I’ve got to look at it as a whole,” said Murkowski, who faces reelection next year but is favored to win.

“I’m not going to prejudge what’s sent over by the House until I’ve seen all the components,” said Collins.

“I have to look at it,” said Ayotte, who on Monday learned Democrats had recruited Gov. Maggie Hassan to challenge her next year. The Ayotte-Hassan race is expected to be one of the most hotly contested Senate races in the cycle.

Democrats say Ayotte, Kirk and other endangered incumbents will pay a political price for supporting the House package, pointing to polls showing that only a minority of voters want to repeal ObamaCare.

“Their base is demanding bills to defend Planned Parenthood and the Affordable Care Act. It’s a terrible position to put purple-state Republicans in. It’s a very easy example of the base pulling the party to the right at the expense of their 2016ers,” said a Democratic leadership aide.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellCruz: Tax reform chances ‘drop significantly’ if healthcare fails Parliamentarian deals setback to GOP repeal bill OPINION | How Democrats stole the nation's lower federal courts MORE (R-Ky.) signaled Tuesday that he supports Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerSudan sanctions spur intense lobbying OPINION | GOP's 7-year ObamaCare blood oath ends in failure A simple fix to encourage bipartisanship in the House MORE’s (R-Ohio) strategy for aiming at both ObamaCare and Planned Parenthood in one package.

“We’ll take up reconciliation when it comes over from the House. And it’s my hope and expectation that it would have in it as much of ObamaCare as we can repeal. And I hope that it will also include provisions to de-fund Planned Parenthood,” he told reporters.

Democrats are expected to oppose the package unanimously. Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinManchin bashes GOP candidate for pushing McCain to resign McCain’s primary challenger asks him to step aside after diagnosis Governors-turned-senators meet to talk healthcare MORE (D-W.Va.) has twice voted in recent months to defund Planned Parenthood, but he said he would vote against similar language if combined with an ObamaCare repeal.

“That’s bullshit. Pure, unadulterated bullshit,” he said.

The House Budget Committee will mark up its package Friday morning. It’s reviewing proposals to repeal the Prevention and Public Health Fund, repeal the individual and employer mandate and repeal the so-called Cadillac tax and the medical
device tax.

A Kaiser Health Tracking Poll from late August showed that more Americans have a favorable than unfavorable view of the law and 50 percent either want Congress to expand the law or continue implementing it as it is.

GOP strategists say centrists will incur relatively less pain by voting for the House-originated reconciliation package.

“The politics of defunding Planned Parenthood and repealing ObamaCare is not great for Republican senators in swing states, but it’s hard to see how a vote for a such a bill in the budget process would be a real game changer, as it’s a long time between now and November 2016,” said John Ullyot, a GOP strategist and former Senate aide.

Other Republicans facing tough races indicated they would vote for the House
package.

“Absolutely,” said Sen. Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonCruz: Tax reform chances ‘drop significantly’ if healthcare fails GOP frets over stalled agenda Conservatives target Congress, not Trump, after healthcare collapse MORE (R-Wis.), who faces former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) in a rematch of his 2010 victory. “I think it clarifies the positions of the parties.” 

Sarah Ferris contributed.