Senate Dems block spending bill, Republicans eye Plan B to avoid shutdown

24 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Democrats poised to filibuster stopgap funding measure.

Senate Democrats on Thursday blocked a spending bill that would have averted a government shutdown at the end of the month and defunded the embattled women’s health group Planned Parenthood. The Senate is preparing to vote on legislation that would keep the government open beyond next Wednesday’s deadline at a price Democrats are certain to reject: stripping taxpayer money from the women’s health organization Planned Parenthood.Eleven House Republican freshmen wrote a letter to their colleagues yesterday, urging them not to shut down the government next week. “[W]e were elected by our constituent’s to be principled, pragmatic leaders,” their letter said.With the big news out of Congress today the warm welcome received by Pope Francis, one might forget that our nation’s august legislature is headed for yet another government shutdown, this time over Republican demands that the government cut off all funding for Planned Parenthood, most of which comes in the form of Medicaid reimbursements for women’s health care. Practically speaking, however, a letter from 11 freshmen doesn’t amount to much, especially against a 42-member House Freedom Caucus, which is itching for a fight.

As we write, no one can be sure that Congress will pass a law keeping the government funded beyond that date and thereby enable it to avoid a partial shutdown. Just when it was starting to look like their chaotic presidential primary might be heading to a more sane place, the shutdown controversy threatens to drag it backwards, boosting the candidates the party fears most. In the Senate, Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky reportedly has a plan that would permit his caucus to stage a symbolic vote against Planned Parenthood without risking a shutdown. Democrats united against the legislation over the Planned Parenthood provision, which also received a veto threat from the White House earlier in the day. But some of Capitol Hill’s most ardent conservatives are unafraid of extending the battle over Planned Parenthood, even if it would result in a partial government shutdown.

A new Businessweek poll asked whether “Federal funding to Planned Parenthood should be cut,” and found that 59 percent said it shouldn’t (with 40 percent saying that “strongly”) while only 37 percent said it should. The bigger problem is in the House, where Speaker John Boehner of Ohio is struggling — once again — to rein in far-right conservatives who are willing to pass a funding bill only if it reflects their priorities, in this case, by “defunding” Planned Parenthood.

The leaders of the GOP, by contrast, are motivated chiefly by a desire to avoid another shutdown like the 2013 episode that hurt the party politically, and McConnell appears to enjoy support from a majority of the Republican rank and file. “I’d rather it defund Planned Parenthood, but if the votes aren’t there, I don’t see the point of having a standoff,” said Senator Roger Wicker, a Republican from Mississippi and chairman of the Senate GOP’s campaign committee. With this deadline looming, one might assume that lawmakers are scrambling, running from office to office, holding frantic meetings looking for a solution to resolve this mess.

Republican senator Ted Cruz, who is using his rivalry with GOP leaders in Washington to help define his presidential campaign, responded in an editorial essay in Politico saying that just the threat of a shutdown was sending “Republican leadership running for the hills”. In essence, he said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Reid are still the “de facto” leaders of Congress, even though the GOP retook the Congress one year after he pushed a failed bid to defund Obamacare as part of a 2013 spending showdown, leading to a 16-day government shutdown. “What difference does it make, to paraphrase Hillary Clinton, whether we have a Republican Congress?” Mr. Dysfunctional as this situation is, it’s only the prelude to a series of potential impasses, of which the next will be the need to replace the current short-term transportation bill, which expires Oct. 30. Among Republican voters — particularly the partisans who will actually turn out in primaries — Planned Parenthood is deeply unpopular, and a shutdown doesn’t seem like such a terrible idea. Obviously, getting over these hurdles would be a modest feat compared with the passage of timely appropriations bills and tax reform, which would represent actual policymaking but are probably beyond Congress’s capability given the polarization of Washington.

Internal GOP divisions over what tactics to use to take on Planned Parenthood have House Republican leaders tied in knots, and they’ve been unable to take on their traditional role of initiating spending legislation. That bill is expected to be filibustered by Democrats, and thus “prove” to conservative hardliners that blocking Planned Parenthood’s funding is, on a practical level, impossible. McConnell said Congress should fund federal operations through Dec. 11 to buy enough time for Congress to negotiate funding for the rest of fiscal 2016. Yes, President Barack Obama makes the task harder by insisting on “dollar for dollar” equality in increases in domestic and military spending, contrary to most Republicans’ preferences. Planned Parenthood has long been targeted by Republicans, but the effort took on greater urgency after the release of secretly recorded videos that show organization officials discussing methods of procuring tissue from aborted fetuses and compensation for shipping it to researchers.

If you’re a Republican, this is a hopeful sign, because the outlandish number of candidates is beginning to dwindle, and the fewer candidates there are, the more order can come to the race. But on Thursday Cruz said the “timing is inconsequential” when it comes to a vote on proceeding to a clean CR, suggesting he won’t force a weekend cloture vote. One might even hope that the winnowing process will accelerate the decline of the “outsider” candidates who are the product of momentary fascination but who would be disastrous in a general election.

Still, as Boehner himself undoubtedly realizes, the ultras in his caucus are not only acting contrary to the national interest, but they are also acting contrary to the Republican Party’s own long-term political interest. As the number of active candidates goes down, voters’ minds may turn toward rational considerations like electability, and the party could nominate someone who actually has a chance of winning next November. For Republican leaders, the strategy would prove to hard-liners that because of Senate rules that protect the minority, there simply aren’t the votes. Eleven GOP House freshmen — several face difficult re-election races next year in Democratic-leaning districts — say they oppose a shutdown confrontation.

But now we get another shutdown controversy, which reminds Republican voters of all the reasons they can’t stand the GOP’s establishment in Washington. Perhaps more than anything else, the interest in the outsiders in general and Trump in particular is fed by the disappointment and disgruntlement among the GOP base over party leaders who seem completely ineffectual, forever talking about how they’re going to stop Barack Obama but always failing to deliver. Cruz said his own party has promised to surrender instead of leveraging “must-pass” legislation to risk a shutdown and force President Obama to blink first. Ryan Costello promises to “avoid repeating the mistakes of the past,” a reference to the GOP-sparked 2013 shutdown over implementation of the health care law. “We are writing today to express our strong support for a funding resolution that will avoid another unnecessary and harmful government shutdown,” the GOP freshmen said.

Cruz has a new op-ed in Politico demanding a shutdown, which begins this way: What happens in politics when one side is absolutely committed to its principles, willing to fight for them no matter the cost, and the other side reflexively surrenders on every issue? Cruz said while Democrats play the “Terminator,” Republican leadership listens only to “Jerry McGuire” types on K Street who say, “Show me the money.” From Mr. There’s increasing chatter that Boehner, reading the writing on the wall, will let the far-right members have their shutdown, but the Speaker will only allow it to continue for a few days before reaching out to Pelosi for votes. Republicans will not get the substantive thing they want, just as they always fail to get the substantive thing they want when they threaten shutdowns. Whenever it does end, Ted Cruz will cry “Betrayal!”, Donald Trump will say, “these bozos can’t get anything done,” and lots of Republican voters will nod their heads in agreement.

And the day when something resembling order comes to the presidential primary contest will have been pushed back again — all while the general electorate is reminded of what a reasonable and trustworthy governing party the GOP is.

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