Senate GOP on Track to Defund Planned Parenthood

Senate GOP on Track to Defund Planned Parenthood
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Senate Republicans are sticking with their plans to use a budget procedure this week to repeal major portions of the Affordable Care Act,  with a provision to defund Planned Parenthood, site of a deadly attack in Colorado on Friday.

The procedure, known as budget reconciliation, would allow the Senate to pass the measure with just 51 votes, rather than the 60 it usually takes to break a filibuster, making it easy for Republicans to put legislation on President Obama’s desk, although he’s expected to veto it. The Planned Parenthood provision was added to the Obamacare repeal measure earlier this year in response to the videos showing executives from the organization discussing the sale of fetal tissue, although Planned Parenthood has said it did nothing illegal.

Robert Lewis Dear has been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting that killed three people and injured eight at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo. According to NBC News, Dear said, “No more baby parts” after he was arrested.

On Monday, Senate Republicans met privately to discuss how to advance the repeal measure. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the third-ranking Republican in the chamber, said that while the shooting was “tragic,” he expected them to move forward on defunding Planned Parenthood.

The violent act of “a crazed gunman” was “a horrible, awful thing, and he ought to pay the consequence and a price for it,” Thune said, adding that the Planned Parenthood provision would remain. “It’s not like the issue is new around here; it’s a vote we’ve expected to have as part of this process. The House, it’s in their bill, so my expectation is, unless something changes, that it would still be part of what the Senate ultimately votes on.”

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the Republican whip, told the Associated Press that the shooting and the fetal tissue donations are “separate issues completely.”

On the House side, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California echoed Cornyn’s assertion that the two issues were separate. The House, along with having voted to defund Planned Parenthood, set up a select committee to investigate the videos and the fetal tissue practices.

In a press briefing Monday morning, McCarthy dismissed suggestions that Republicans’ “rhetoric,” largely critical of Planned Parenthood, created a hostile political climate that could have led to the shooting. “This individual, this shooting, the thing that drove him most was he was a very evil, crazy man,” said McCarthy.

“If you want to talk rhetoric, I see rhetoric from all different issues,” he said. “If they want to make that argument, I think you’ll find putting together a select committee is sheerly for the basis of just getting to the information, and you’ve got a bipartisan committee there where all pieces of information can come forward and we’ll see how that plays out."

Not all Republicans are eager to move forward with defunding Planned Parenthood. Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who voted against defunding the organization earlier this year in a measure that failed to pass the Senate, said she has “a lot of concerns” about defunding through reconciliation, though she didn’t say whether she would ultimately support the legislation.

Planned Parenthood, Collins said, “provides millions of Americans with important services, particularly family-planning services and WellCare, so I would like to see a much more targeted approach,” Collins told reporters. “I’m looking at everything right now."

Planned Parenthood is just one provision of the legislation, however. The main purpose of the bill, which the House passed last month and the Senate is expected to take up later this week, would repeal major portions of the Affordable Care Act, including the individual and employer mandates. The Senate’s version would go a step further than the House, adding a repeal of the Medicaid expansion, according to senators leaving the meeting Monday evening.

The Medicaid expansion was “one of the things we’re talking about. We’re going to provide a transitional period for that,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia told reporters.

Cornyn and Thune both said they were confident they could get to 51 votes to pass the measure. Utah Sen. Mike Lee, who along with Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, said last month he wouldn’t support the measure because it didn’t go far enough, told reporters after the meeting Monday that he liked where the bill was headed and was “very encouraged.”

“If he’s encouraged, I’m encouraged,” Cornyn said later.

The plan is to introduce the bill and schedule a vote for the end of the week after the 20 hours of debate mandated under reconciliation rules. Before that vote, however, a so-called “vote-o-rama” would take place, with senators free to offer up and pursue votes on a slew of amendments, which could lead to a late night of tough votes on controversial issues.

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at jarkin@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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