GOP at decisive moment on Planned Parenthood

GOP at decisive moment on Planned Parenthood
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Republicans are speeding toward a fight over defunding Planned Parenthood that threatens to blow up their healthcare legislation.

The Senate Republican bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare would cut off federal funding for the organization for a year, mirroring the legislation passed by the House.

With Republicans in control of both Congress and the White House for the first time in a decade, the healthcare bill represents the party’s best shot to defund the organization after years of trying.

But the move has frustrated two key moderate GOP senators — Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCollins: 'Extremely disappointing' ObamaCare fix left out of spending deal Overnight Cybersecurity: Zuckerberg breaks silence on Cambridge Analytica | Senators grill DHS chief on election security | Omnibus to include election cyber funds | Bill would create 'bug bounty' for State GOP lawmakers blast Dems for opposing ObamaCare fix MORE (R-Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiProposed budget for Indian Health Services won't treat Native American patients equally Keep anti-environment riders for Alaska out of spending bill Industry should comply with the Methane Waste Prevention Rule MORE (R-Alaska) — who are warning they don’t support using the bill to target the women’s health organization.

"I do not like the provision that eliminates federal funding for Planned Parenthood. It makes no sense to single out Planned Parenthood from all of the Medicaid providers," Collins told reporters after the bill was released. 

The two senators are expected to offer an amendment during the Senate’s “vote-a-rama” — a marathon session where any senator can force a vote — restoring the Planned Parenthood funding. 

Republicans were thwarted under the Obama administration in their push to cut off federal funding for the organization, despite having majorities in one or both chambers of Congress since 2010.

Vice President Pence touted the provision during a rally at a Focus on the Family event in Colorado, noting he cast the tie-breaking vote to allow states to defund Planned Parenthood earlier this year. 

“[And] later this summer, when we repeal and replace ObamaCare, we're going to defund Planned Parenthood once and for all,” he said Friday. 

Most of the Senate GOP caucus supports defunding the organization. Forty-seven GOP senators voted in 2015 to block an amendment from Collins and Murkowski that would have restored Planned Parenthood funding.

GOP leaders have a narrow path to passing their ObamaCare repeal-and-replaceme bill through the upper chamber next week, and can’t afford to have Planned Parenthood funding become a sticking point. 

Republicans have 52 Senate seats, and they need at least 50 senators to support the bill to let Pence to break a tie. No Democratic senator is expected to support the measure.

Collins and Murkowski have stopped short of saying they wouldn’t vote for the legislation if Planned Parenthood were defunded. 

Murkowski appeared noncommittal after a caucus meeting, while Collins highlighted removing the funding as one piece of the Senate’s bill that she didn’t like. But Collins said she is still reviewing the overall legislation and wants to see the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score.

Both senators have stressed they don’t want to tie a fight over the organization, which provides abortions among other health services, to the larger healthcare bill.

“I am committed to ensuring that important provisions of the [Affordable Care Act] … and funding for Planned Parenthood remain intact,” Murkowski wrote earlier this month in a letter to constituents.

With a slim majority, it’s unclear if leadership can afford to lose both Collins and Murkowski if they want to be able to pass their legislation.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCollins: 'Extremely disappointing' ObamaCare fix left out of spending deal House poised to vote on .3T spending bill Budowsky: Stop Trump from firing Mueller MORE (R-Ky.) would need to win over every other member of his wide-ranging caucus, and there are already early signs of trouble. 

Conservative Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump can save Republicans and restore sanity to California in 2018 Cruz says Cambridge Analytica assured him its practices were legal Dem battling Cruz in Texas: ‘I can understand how people think this is crazy’ MORE (Texas), Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonHouse passes 'right to try' drug bill Senate GOP shoots down bill blocking Trump tariffs Possible North Korea summit raises anxiety in Washington MORE (Wis.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOvernight Defense: Senate sides with Trump on military role in Yemen | Dem vets push for new war authorization on Iraq anniversary | General says time isn't 'right' for space corps Senate sides with Trump on providing Saudi military support Senate, Trump clash over Saudi Arabia MORE (Utah) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulHouse poised to vote on .3T spending bill Overnight Finance: Lawmakers race to finalize omnibus | What we know about funding bill | White House on board | Fed raises rates for first time under Powell Senate passes controversial online sex trafficking bill MORE (Ky.) announced in a joint statement Thursday that they could not support the current version of the legislation

Meanwhile, Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerRepublican drops Senate primary challenge to Heller after Trump's urging Three states where Dems can pick up Senate seats GOP senator: Justice Kennedy is going to retire this summer MORE (R-Nev.) announced during a press conference Friday with Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican who has been critical of the legislation, that he could not support the measure.

Heller slammed several core aspects of the Senate bill, indicating his vote might already be out of reach for McConnell.

The Nevada senator is one of several GOP senators from states that expanded Medicaid under ObamaCare. He’s also the most vulnerable Senate Republican up for reelection next year and has tried to walk a fine line on Planned Parenthood. 

He told reporters on Friday, “I do not have beef with Planned Parenthood. I'm not opposed to Planned Parenthood,” but stressed he doesn’t support federal funding for organizations that perform abortions. 

The bill’s funding restrictions could still be stripped out. GOP aides have speculated that the defunding language would violate the Byrd rule — which governs what can be included in the healthcare bill — a fact highlighted by Planned Parenthood in a string of releases this week. 

“It has no place on reconciliation because it violates these rules, and it has no place on any legislation because it is the epitome of a mean-spirited policy that hurts millions of women,” Planned Parenthood said. 

A lobbyist with knowledge of negotiations predicted that while defunding Planned Parenthood would be in the Senate’s draft, it could be taken out before a final vote.

Also at risk of being removed from the legislation are restrictions preventing tax credits from being used on insurance plans that cover abortion. House Republicans demanded the restrictions be included in the bill, and removing them could threaten the support of conservatives. 

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynWhite House officials expect short-term funding bill to avert shutdown Spending bill delay raises risk of partial government shutdown support GOP leaders to Trump: Leave Mueller alone MORE (R-Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, told reporters that "Planned Parenthood funding will not be in it. The Hyde Amendment is the other issue, and we're working the parliamentarian to get clarity on that."

Outside groups opposed to abortion rights are springing into action. 

Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, and Tony Perkins, the president of the conservative Family Research Council, said they were “working closely” with “pro-life allies in the Senate” to prevent either provision from being removed.

“The expectations of the pro-life movement have been very clear: The health care bill must not indefinitely subsidize abortion and must re-direct abortion giant Planned Parenthood’s taxpayer funding to community health centers,” they said in a joint statement. 

Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood held more than 60 rallies across the country during a “Pink the Night Out” event this week. Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersModerates see vindication in Lipinski’s primary win Sanders: Fox News 'couldn't handle' town hall on economic inequality Mississippi woman appointed to Senate, making Vermont only state to never have female lawmaker MORE (I-Vt.) and MoveOn.Org are teaming up to oppose the GOP bill, including the Planned Parenthood cuts. 

“If this is the Senate’s idea of a bill with heart, then the women of America should have fear struck in theirs,” said Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood. “Slashing Medicaid and blocking millions of women from getting preventive care at Planned Parenthood is beyond heartless.”