Sue Ogrocki/AP

Abortion Politics the Biggest Obstacle to Avoiding a Shutdown

GOP leaders hope that separate bills on abortion and Planned Parenthood will mollify conservatives, but the path to avoiding a shutdown remains murky.

Con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers will take their first hope­ful steps this week to­ward avoid­ing a gov­ern­ment shut­down over fed­er­al fund­ing for Planned Par­ent­hood, bring­ing up freest­and­ing bills aimed at crack­ing down on abor­tion.

Yet with con­ser­vat­ives in­sist­ing that the is­sue be ad­dressed in a spend­ing bill, and some hint­ing at harsh re­per­cus­sions for Speak­er John Boehner if he backs down, it re­mains un­clear how Re­pub­lic­ans will keep the is­sue from com­ing to a head at the end of the month. After hon­or­ing Rosh Hasha­nah and Yom Kip­pur, and host­ing the Pope’s first-ever ad­dress, Con­gress will have little time to agree on a short-term fund­ing fix by the end of the month.

House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Kev­in Mc­Carthy an­nounced Fri­day that the House will vote on two bills tar­get­ing Planned Par­ent­hood. One would place a one-year morator­i­um on fed­er­al fund­ing to af­fil­i­ates of the group that con­duct abor­tions. The oth­er would im­pose crim­in­al pen­al­ties on med­ic­al pro­viders who do not provide care for a baby who sur­vives an abor­tion.

The le­gis­la­tion comes in re­sponse to sev­er­al videos that claim to de­pict Planned Par­ent­hood rep­res­ent­at­ives selling tis­sue har­ves­ted from abor­ted fetuses. The or­gan­iz­a­tion claims the videos mis­rep­res­ent what is a leg­al prac­tice of donat­ing fetal tis­sue for re­search.

“Amer­ic­ans are right­fully out­raged by what was de­pic­ted in these videos and Con­gress and the Amer­ic­an people have a right to know ex­actly what is hap­pen­ing,” Mc­Carthy said. “These two crit­ic­al bills will en­sure that we will get all the facts and pro­tect those who can­not pro­tect them­selves.”

Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell has been adam­ant that he will not take any ac­tion res­ult­ing in a gov­ern­ment shut­down, al­though Mc­Con­nell spokes­man Don Stew­art said there are no de­tails on the con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion avail­able yet. He also chal­lenged the idea, as con­veyed in a Politico story, that Mc­Con­nell said he would back a plan to fund the gov­ern­ment through Decem­ber with no con­di­tions.

“I don’t think he said no con­di­tions. He did say that it wouldn’t work to shut down the gov­ern­ment. But then, he’s said that for over a year,” Stew­art said.

In­stead, the Sen­ate will bring up Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham’s ban on late-term abor­tions, ac­cord­ing to Sen. John Thune, the cham­ber’s No. 3 Re­pub­lic­an. Lead­er­ship is hop­ing the vote will serve as a large enough anti-abor­tion vic­tory to quell con­ser­vat­ives’ de­mands that fed­er­al fund­ing for Planned Par­ent­hood be re­moved from the spend­ing bill, al­though it’s un­clear ex­actly when the vote will oc­cur. A Sen­ate GOP aide said to ex­pect Gra­ham’s bill not this week but later in the month. Demo­crats are ex­pec­ted to block pas­sage of the bill.

However, giv­en that none of the bills are ex­pec­ted to be signed in­to law, the ges­tures are un­likely to put down con­ser­vat­ives’ calls to use the ap­pro­pri­ations pro­cess to strip Planned Par­ent­hood of its roughly $500 mil­lion in yearly fed­er­al fund­ing. The con­ser­vat­ive House Free­dom Caucus an­nounced last week that its mem­bers would not vote for a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion if it con­tin­ues fund­ing for the or­gan­iz­a­tion; Sens. Rand Paul of Ken­tucky and Ted Cruz of Texas—both GOP pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates—have said the same. And some mem­bers have been whis­per­ing about re­sus­cit­at­ing a pending res­ol­u­tion to oust Boehner from the speak­er­ship if he does not fight for that out­come.

“Try­ing to coddle people and say, ‘Hey, you’re just get­ting your little vote on a bill that’s go­ing nowhere,’—we know that’s not go­ing to stop it,” Rep. Tim Huel­skamp said. “The Speak­er­ship’s on the line here if he can’t stand for something [des­pite that] he claims to be 100 per­cent pro-life.”

House Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers held three listen­ing ses­sions with mem­bers on the top­ic last week and will con­tin­ue to speak with their mem­bers this week. But for the time be­ing, they have not de­cided wheth­er to bring up a CR that strips Planned Par­ent­hood fund­ing. They are wor­ried, sources said, that in­ject­ing shut­down polit­ics in­to the battle will ul­ti­mately do more harm than good. And with Mc­Con­nell warn­ing that do­ing so would be fruit­less, Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers are wary of head­ing down a dead-end road.

But even con­ser­vat­ives who have vowed to op­pose any bill giv­ing Planned Par­ent­hood aren’t con­vinced they will win. Rep. Mick Mul­vaney, who is lead­ing the ef­fort in the House, doubts the meth­od will be suc­cess­ful in the end.

“The cyn­ic in me says, ‘OK, we’ll pass a bill here that de­funds Planned Par­ent­hood. The Sen­ate won’t take it up, and we’ll fold, be­cause that’s what we’ve done the last four and a half years that I’ve been here.’ And that would be ex­traordin­ar­ily dis­ap­point­ing to me and to oth­ers,” he said.

Planned Par­ent­hood isn’t the only obstacle to passing a spend­ing bill. In the Sen­ate, where Re­pub­lic­ans must court Demo­crat­ic votes to pass most le­gis­la­tion, Demo­crats are push­ing for a CR that ex­tends only through Novem­ber 20, al­low­ing time to ne­go­ti­ate a budget deal be­fore Christ­mas, ac­cord­ing to a seni­or Demo­crat­ic aide. The aide said Demo­crats want three things out of the ap­pro­pri­ations pro­cess: to ad­dress se­quester spend­ing cuts, to cre­ate a more equal ra­tio between de­fense and do­mest­ic spend­ing and to elim­in­ate pois­on pill riders.

Be­fore the Sen­ate be­comes con­sumed over the spend­ing fight, it will hold Tues­day a re­peat vote on the Ir­an nuc­le­ar deal, with few ex­pect­ing a dif­fer­ent out­come. Mc­Con­nell chided Demo­crats on Thursday after they blocked a vote on a dis­ap­prov­al res­ol­u­tion that would im­per­il the pact—signed by Ir­an and six glob­al powers—by bar­ring the ad­min­is­tra­tion from lift­ing con­gres­sion­al sanc­tions. “You guys will all be in­vited to the veto sign­ing,” Mc­Con­nell told Demo­crats. “Break out the cham­pagne, cel­eb­rate, take cred­it for it. You own it.”

Re­pub­lic­ans ac­know­ledge that the vote will likely de­liv­er the same res­ult as last week. “It al­ways amazes me how com­pli­ant the [Demo­crat­ic] caucus seems to be to what the lead­er­ship tells them,” Sen­ate GOP Whip John Cornyn told re­port­ers be­fore the vote. “I can guar­an­tee you as the whip on the Re­pub­lic­an side, it doesn’t work that way on our side. We’ve al­ways been more of a bot­tom-up caucus as op­posed to top-down.”

Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id called the Ir­an vote “clear, de­cis­ive, and fi­nal.”

With Ir­an le­gis­la­tion be­hind them, the House will wait for the pres­id­ent’s next move be­fore de­cid­ing on its next move. Echo­ing his lead­er­ship, House For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee Chair­man Ed Royce said Fri­day that if Obama be­gins to lift sanc­tions on Ir­an as planned Thursday, the House will likely sue the ad­min­is­tra­tion.