GOP seeks plan on spending

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House GOP leaders say they will seek to develop a plan as early as next week on how to keep the government open but block funding for Planned Parenthood.

In the meantime, they will hold listening sessions with rank-and-file members as they seek a way forward.

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“The listening session is to get the best idea so that we’re closer to being on the same page,” House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) said after GOP conference’s fist meeting since the August recess.

Asked when the listening sessions would give way to a planned course of action, Sessions said, “Probably next week.”

At a press conference following the meeting, Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerIn House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable House GOP faces dilemma on spending bills Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns MORE (R-Ohio) deflected a question about whether he will decide to move a “clean” continuing resolution or CR to fund the government.

“I have not made any decisions on when we would move the CR,” he said. 

Congress must pass a bill to fund the government by Oct. 1 to prevent a shutdown.

Many conservative Republicans want any such bill to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood, which has come under fire over a series of undercover videos that showed officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood denies wrongdoing and says they are just receiving legal compensation for expenses. 

The problem for the GOP is that Democrats will not support a bill that cuts off Planned Parenthood’s funding, and President Obama would veto such a measure.

GOP leaders worry their party will get the blame if a shutdown occurs, but it’s not clear they have the votes to pass their spending bill without cutting off Planned Parenthood.

Members left Wednesday’s meeting saying that leadership did not present a plan on Planned Parenthood funding beyond the listening sessions.

“We weren’t presented with any sort of full-blown plan and I think that’s because the leadership really wants to hear what the membership wants to say,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) told reporters. 

Twenty-eight House Republicans have signed onto a letter pledging to oppose any legislation that continues to fund Planned Parenthood. 

Cole warned that previous efforts to defund part of the government have been unsuccessful. The government shut down for 16 days in October 2013 in a fight over defunding ObamaCare.

GOP leaders are desperate to avoid a repeat of that scenario.

“I think they want something that will pass,” Cole said about leadership’s plan. “I think October 2013, we had something that was extraordinarily unpopular, which was ObamaCare, shutting down the government still didn’t work, suggests that wasn’t a winning strategy.”

GOP leaders hope the listening sessions could help more members feel included in the process and divert some of the anger away from the government funding fight. 

“The listening session is designed to build confidence that we’re getting the best ideas and we’re sharing the best ideas,” Sessions said.

Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, said defunding Planned Parenthood through a CR wouldn’t work. 

“I don’t think that it would work totally,” he said. “Because a big chunk of Planned Parenthood is like the funding of ObamaCare and you can’t defund that with an appropriations bill. That’s a fact that we’ve got to take under consideration.”

Over the August recess, Flores said he asked his constituents if Congress should cut off funding to Planned Parenthood.

“About 90 percent of them said yes,” he said. “My follow-up question was, ‘Do you want to shut the government down to defund Planned Parenthood?’ The answer was overwhelmingly no.”

However, the conservative House Freedom Caucus is pushing harder to defund Planned Parenthood in the spending bill. 

Many of its members are among the 28 lawmakers who have signed a letter from Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) vowing not to vote for any spending bill that includes Planned Parenthood funding. 

The House Freedom Caucus talked over the issue at its meeting Tuesday night.

“It’s kind of in flux because everybody wasn’t there, and I think some of the other members have to be canvassed, but I think right now the large majority feels that we couldn’t vote for something that funds Planned Parenthood,” said Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), a member of the Freedom Caucus. 

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), another member who signed Mulvaney’s letter, said Congress shouldn’t give any more money to Planned Parenthood. 

“My own perspective is I think the sands of time should blow over this Capitol Dome before we ever give Planned Parenthood one more dime of taxpayer dollars,” he said.

One option that would allow leadership to avoid a shutdown fight is to seek to divert anger at the group through congressional hearings and then hold a vote on a standalone defunding bill. Sessions said that strategy “seems like a realistic thing that I would be for.”

Another option is to use the fast-track budget process known as reconciliation, which would allow a measure to pass with just 51 votes in the Senate as opposed to the usual 60. 

Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, a key player in the process, said reconciliation on Planned Parenthood is “being discussed.”

But he said it was “too early” to say if it that is a likely course or if he would support it. 

Meanwhile, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said Wednesday that he doesn’t want a “defund Planned Parenthood” rider attached to a government funding measure. 

“I want a clean CR. I want them to let us finish our work. I want it clean,” he said. 

Scott Wong contributed.