Senate Republicans may abandon a plan to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood in hopes of maintaining the votes needed to force a veto fight with President Obama over repealing his signature health care law.
GOP leaders are mulling what to do with a House passed reconciliation bill that would both defund the women’s health group and gut Obamacare by repealing both the employer mandate and a tax on high-end employer-sponsored health plans. The House passed the bill on a 240 to 189 vote in October.
But with Senate conservatives threatening to vote against the legislation because it would not fully repeal the Affordable Care Act, GOP leaders are considering dropping the Planned Parenthood language in order to attract the votes of moderates who are uneasy with cutting off all funds to Planned Parenthood.
“We need to make sure we get 51 votes to get Obamacare repealed,” said Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) . “Anything that gets in the way of that I think at this point we’ll have to take a look at.”
The bill is being moved through the budget reconciliation process, which means it cannot be filibustered in the Senate.
But trouble in the Senate began to bubble up last month when presidential candidates Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) joined their Senate colleague Mike Lee (R-Utah) in denouncing the bill because it does not repeal Obamacare completely.
Senate rules prevent leaders from attempting a full repeal in a reconciliation bill because under this special process the legislation can only address policies that have a direct budgetary impact, which excludes some key policy aspects of Obamacare.
Thune said that no final decisions have been made, but he acknowledged that there is a chance that moderate Republicans could be persuaded to support the reconciliation bill if the Planned Parenthood provisions are dropped.
Republicans have been targeting Planned Parenthood after an anti-abortion group released videos earlier this year that stirred a controversy over practices related to abortions and fetal tissue procurement.
The Senate parliamentarian approved a portion of the reconciliation bill last week but the legislation is not yet final. Senate leaders have been adjusting bill language in recent days to ensure the legislation will not violate the “Byrd Rule,” which determines whether a point of order can be raised to strip provisions that do no have the requisite budgetary impact. The parliamentarian has already decided that a full Obamacare repeal is not possible.
Leaders are still tinkering with what will be in the bill. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas.) told reporters on Monday that he expects the process will continue and a final bill will come up for a vote after Thanksgiving.
“It is an iterative process,” Cornyn said. The parliamentarian “gives us guidance and we try to meet the guidance.”
Republican leaders in the House and Senate have eyed reconciliation as the best way to get around Democratic filibusters and force President Obama to veto legislation repealing his signature domestic policy achievement.
While they lack the votes override a veto, Republicans want to force a direct confrontation with the president.
Many conservatives hoped reconciliation could also be an easy way to defund Planned Parenthood. But with just 54 Republican members in the Senate, leaders know that with Lee, Cruz and Rubio already threatening to oppose the bill they cannot lose any more support. One Republican, Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.), voted against a standalone bill to defund the women’s health group in August and eight Republicans voted against a spending bill in September that would have ended the funds.
“We’re looking at all options, it’s all about 51,” Cornyn said. “Until we get a clear idea from the parliamentarian what’s go and what’s no-go then we’ll start rounding up the votes.”