Deflated conservatives eye new tactics in Planned Parenthood fight

Conservative Republicans are disappointed that the government funding bill does not defund Planned Parenthood, but say they are looking for compromise on the issue going forward.

The $1.1 trillion spending bill coming up for a vote in the House on Friday leaves Planned Parenthood funding untouched. Cutting the funding would have been a deal-breaker for Democrats, but that is cold comfort for the conservatives who fought against the group this year.

“I am disappointed that that wasn’t in there,” said Rep. John FlemingJohn FlemingClub for Growth: Anti-Trump spending proved to be 'good call' David Duke gets debate slot in La. Senate race Prostitution fight tightens Louisiana Senate race MORE (R-La.). “I don't see where we gained any ground on pro-life [issues].”

“I'm disappointed, I know that [Speaker] Paul RyanPaul RyanCures bill in jeopardy amid drug pricing push Brent Budowsky: An epic battle for the future of Congress NRCC ad touts GOP rep for bucking Trump MORE [R-Wis.] is disappointed,” added Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.). 

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) wrote on Twitter that the “omnibus fully funds Planned Parenthood and their bartering over baby parts.”

Planned Parenthood, meanwhile, released a statement praising the funding bill and congratulating Democrats for “holding the line” against “extreme members of Congress.”

It’s an outcome few would have predicted in the late summer, when a series of undercover videos pushed the conservative House Freedom Caucus to oppose any funding bill that included funding for Planned Parenthood, a demand that played a role in Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerRyan has little margin for error in Speaker vote Top Lobbyists 2016: Hired Guns The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE’s (R-Ohio) abrupt resignation.  

But Planned Parenthood is no longer at the forefront of the political debate, having been overtaken by terrorism, mass shootings and the presidential race. 

In the omnibus debate, the Freedom Caucus had pushed for giving states the ability to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood if they chose, calling it a compromise. 

The Freedom Caucus and Pro-Life Caucus also pushed for language in the omnibus known as the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA) that would provide protections for organizations that have conscience objections to covering abortions in their insurance plans. A third request was to cut off funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), an entity that conservatives say supports China’s “coercive birth limitation policy.” 

Despite the effort by conservatives to moderate their demands, none of those three provisions were included in the omnibus, though it does include a 7 percent cut to UNFPA funding. 

“We had three very reasonable asks on just some of the more no-brainer ideas,” said Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), a member of the Freedom Caucus.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) lamented the lack of the ANDA language in the spending bill. 

“The conscience protection, it’s who we are as Americans,” Meadows said, calling the lack of that provision the “biggest disappointment.”

However, unlike in the fall, conservatives are generally not lashing out at leadership, noting that even though they don’t like the result, the process was inclusive. 

Meadows said as recently as Thursday morning that his chief of staff had talked to Ryan’s chief of staff about the omnibus. 

“That open dialogue is to be applauded, regardless of where the answer is, whether you like the answer or not, at least there's a give and take,” Meadows said.  

Ryan pushed to include the conscience protection language in the omnibus, but Democrats rejected the effort. 

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chairman of the Pro-Life Caucus, gave Ryan credit for trying. 

“Speaker Ryan did a Herculean job, extraordinary job trying to protect conscience rights,” he said. 

Groups opposed to abortion rights say the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act bill will be a priority next year. 

Meanwhile, conservatives are indicating they are open to smaller victories on Planned Parenthood, even if full defunding of the group remains out of reach.

“Any reasonable compromise that just starts moving us in the right direction is good,” Brat said.  

Brat added that he hopes there is a return to “regular order” on legislation next year — a priority of Ryan’s that would empower committee chairmen — that would at least guarantee an up-or-down vote on a Planned Parenthood defunding amendment to the health spending bill.  

“Debate it on the floor, have an up or down vote and see where you stand,” he said.  

Asked about funding for Planned Parenthood, Meadows said, “That particular issue is one that is certainly on the radar and a priority, but there are a number of other factors that will be in that agenda that we want to accomplish, where perhaps that's not the single sticking point.” 

“This is a 40-year debate,” he said. “So I don't know that it's going to get solved in the first quarter of 2016.” 

Ryan, for his part, is pointing to the fast-track reconciliation bill when asked why Planned Parenthood defunding is not in the omnibus.

“It's in the reconciliation bill. The reconciliation bill was the vehicle we chose long ago. We could get that through the Senate. We knew we couldn't get it through the Senate in any other way,” he said.

He said the measure would pass the House and be sent to President Obama the first week of 2016. The president is expected to veto it.

Meanwhile, the special committee House Republicans set up this year to investigate Planned Parenthood is still around, and is in the process of hiring staff. 

“We expect to have an organizational meeting in January and begin our work sessions at that point,” Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnCalifornia companies sued for allegedly selling fetal tissue for profit Race is on for prized House chairmanship GOP struggles to find women to lead House committees MORE (R-Tenn.), the panel’s chairman, said in a statement to The Hill. “No hearings are currently set. That will be determined in January.” 

Democrats on the committee, though, expect there will be few if any public hearings, with most work happening behind closed doors.  

Blackburn said the committee would focus on the link between abortion providers and fetal tissue procurement companies, completing its work next December. 

“These are both issues of importance to the American people,” Blackburn said.

“They expect them to be handled in a thoughtful and professional manner and we anticipate meeting their expectations.”