GOP on tightrope with Planned Parenthood


Senate Republicans are treading a narrow path as they seek to defund Planned Parenthood through passage of a healthcare bill.

Cutting off federal funds because of the abortion services provided by the organization is a goal of most congressional Republicans and the Trump administration.

{mosads}And with majorities in the House and Senate and control of the White House, the goal seems within reach after years of the party being thwarted by Senate Democrats and former President Barack Obama.

The problem is that Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) both may oppose a healthcare bill that cuts off funding to Planned Parenthood.

Republicans would then have to keep on board every other member of the GOP conference, with Vice President Pence breaking a 50-50 tie in the Senate.

GOP leaders acknowledge the tough situation.

“The goal is, of course, to get 50 senators and the vice president, so we’ll try to figure out how we make that happen,” Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, told The Hill.

“I think that’s going to be the challenge: How do we put together and assemble 50 Republicans plus the vice president to get something across the finish line?” said Thune, who expects the Senate will keep House language defunding Planned Parenthood.

Republicans are using special budgetary rules to prevent Democrats from filibustering the healthcare bill, making it the perfect vehicle to pass legislation defunding Planned Parenthood.

Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, acknowledged on Tuesday that if the GOP is able to use reconciliation, his caucus won’t have the votes to stop them.

“If it’s reconciliation and they have 51 Republicans, then it’s the end of the story,” he told The Hill.

The real question is whether the GOP can afford to lose Collins and Murkowski.

Collins said she doesn’t understand why the two issues are even being linked. Murkowski has said that she does not believe Planned Parenthood should be part of the healthcare debate. 

In 2015, the two senators offered an amendment on an ObamaCare replacement bill striking language cutting off Planned Parenthood’s federal funding. Their effort failed and Collins voted against the bill, though Murkowski supported it.

Collins said she would offer a similar amendment to the Senate’s bill if it defunds Planned Parenthood. She demurred, however, when pressed if she would ultimately vote against the ObamaCare replacement bill if her effort fails.

“There are many issues that are going to be involved in this bill that I care about; that is one of them, but there are many others,” she said.

Neither Collins nor Murkowski is part of the healthcare working group convened by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), which met again on Tuesday. Both Collins and Senate GOP leadership have downplayed their exclusion.

Forcing a fight over Planned Parenthood would also put a focus on Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who is up for reelection in 2018 in a state won by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Heller sparked criticism from both conservatives and liberals after he said at a recent town hall that he has “no problem” with federal funding for Planned Parenthood and would “protect” it.

A spokeswoman walked back Heller’s statement, noting he does not support funding for organizations that provide abortions. A 1976 statute known as the Hyde Amendment bars federal funds from covering abortions and has been included in annual appropriations bills.

A survey from the left-leaning Public Policy Polling found 59 percent of voters in 13 GOP-held districts won by Clinton oppose defunding Planned Parenthood, compared with 35 percent who support it.

Conservatives are pressing to take care of defunding Planned Parenthood, though Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) acknowledged the legislation has to be able to “command the support of 50 senators.”

Cruz and GOP Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Rand Paul (Ky.) teamed up with members of the House Freedom Caucus earlier this year to demand “full repeal” of ObamaCare.

The Senate bill is not likely to alter as much of ObamaCare as the bill approved by the House or the 2015 bill.

Paul has publicly fretted that the Senate’s parliamentarian could cut what he thinks made the House legislation palatable.

“If all the good stuff is lost and we’re left with just a subsidy bill … I’m not real excited about that,” he told reporters last week.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said he supports using healthcare reform to defund Planned Parenthood but hedged when pressed if it would be in the Senate’s final product.

“You know, I can’t tell you everything,” he said when asked if the Senate bill would defund the organization. “That’s been consistent, but we need 51 votes.”

Tags Barack Obama Dean Heller Dick Durbin Hillary Clinton John Cornyn John Thune Lisa Murkowski Mike Lee Mitch McConnell Rand Paul Susan Collins Ted Cruz
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