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.

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But the move has frustrated two key moderate GOP senators — Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids Study: ObamaCare bills backed by Collins would lower premiums Right scrambles GOP budget strategy MORE (R-Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Week ahead: Trump expected to shrink two national monuments GOP on verge of opening Arctic refuge to drilling 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 McConnellGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat McConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Brent Budowsky: A plea to Alabama voters 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 CruzDebbie Wasserman Schultz marks 10 years as breast cancer survivor Foreign agent registration is no magical shield against Russian propaganda Let Trump be Trump and he'll sail through 2020 MORE (Texas), Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonOvernight Cybersecurity: Panel pushes agencies on dropping Kaspersky software | NC county won't pay ransom to hackers | Lawmakers sound alarm over ISIS 'cyber caliphate' GOP chairman warns of ISIS's ‘cyber caliphate’ Overnight Finance: House approves motion to go to tax conference — with drama | GOP leaders to consider Dec. 30 spending bill | Justices skeptical of ban on sports betting | Mulvaney won't fire official who sued him MORE (Wis.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSupreme Court takes on same-sex wedding cake case House approves motion to go to tax conference — with drama Trump really will shrink government, starting with national monuments MORE (Utah) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulLexington mayor launches bid for Congress Trump-free Kennedy Center Honors avoids politics Meet the Iran hawk who could be Trump's next secretary of State MORE (Ky.) announced in a joint statement Thursday that they could not support the current version of the legislation

Meanwhile, Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerDems look to use Moore against GOP Senate hearing shows Fed chair nominee acts the part Senate GOP votes to begin debate on tax bill 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 CornynMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Air Force makes criminal reporting changes after Texas massacre We need a better pathway for allowing civilians to move guns across state lines 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) SandersSchumer: Franken should resign Franken resignation could upend Minnesota races Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign 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.”