Taking Aim at Planned Parenthood, Conservatives Use Familiar Tactic


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Senators Joni Ernst and James Lankford on Wednesday. They and Senator Rand Paul introduced a bill to redirect federal funding from Planned Parenthood to other health care providers.

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Zach Gibson/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The vow by ardently conservative Republicans to reject any spending bill that does not cut off federal funds for Planned Parenthood is their latest attempt to force through policies by threatening to shut down the government.

It is a tactic they employed after taking control of the House in 2011, when the government was nearly shuttered in a fight over money for abortions, and one they used again in 2013, when they tried to compel significant rollbacks to the Affordable Care Act, leading to a costly shutdown.

It surfaced again this year when Republicans took over the Senate and conservatives held up a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security by trying to derail President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

And now, they are using it as a weapon against Planned Parenthood, emboldened by the release of videos alleging that the group sells fetal tissue for medical research. Planned Parenthood says it charges only small fees to cover its expenses in providing fetal tissue to researchers, as allowed under federal law.

These moves by Republicans bother party leaders, who want to keep the government funded without big policy fights, even on things they support. The leaders are also concerned about the pressure such tactics put on Republican senators up for re-election in swing states next year.

“I’m going to want to make sure that we keep the government funded,” said Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire, who would like Congress to cut off Planned Parenthood’s funding, but not by holding hostage appropriations that keep the government’s lights on.

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, said the Senate would vote Monday on a measure to end the roughly $500 million in federal funds that Planned Parenthood receives annually.

The bill is expected to fail because it lacks support from most Democrats and at least a few Republicans. Two senators — Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia — have come up with a more moderate bill, but it is seen as having little chance of getting a Senate hearing.

But some Republicans, frustrated that they cannot get the Planned Parenthood defunding bill through the Senate as individual legislation, are now threatening to vote against any spending bill, including one that will be needed to keep the government functioning this fall, unless the money is removed.

“Please know that we cannot and will not support any funding resolution — an appropriations bill, an omnibus package, a continuing resolution or otherwise — that contains any funding for Planned Parenthood, including mandatory funding streams,” Representative Mick Mulvaney, Republican of South Carolina, wrote in a letter to House leaders this week. The sentiment was echoed by Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, who has made a habit of causing disruptions to Senate legislation.

While the House may be able to pass a measure eliminating that funding, it would be far more difficult to do so in the Senate, and the Obama administration would almost certainly reject it, anyway. “This is a tactic we have seen used before,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said Thursday. “The president obviously does not support that ongoing effort.”

It is also unclear whether a majority of Republicans will have the appetite to risk a government shutdown again, as the last one was far from popular with voters.

The Affordable Care Act has been in Republicans’ cross hairs since its inception, and Mr. Obama’s immigration and environmental policies have also come under fire through policy riders on spending bills. But some congressional Republicans have made undoing Planned Parenthood specifically and abortion rights generally a central policy issue since taking over the House in 2011.

In their first spending bill after that takeover, Republicans and Democrats wrangled over an effort to restrict money going to Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. While the Republicans ultimately lost that fight, they did succeed in reviving a provision to restrict abortion financing in Washington. They have maintained that funding limitation in each subsequent appropriations bill.

In 2013, the House passed the most restrictive ban on abortion considered by Congress in a decade, one that would have banned abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy; the Senate never voted on it. Speaker John A. Boehner referred to the bill this week in listing Republican accomplishments at a news conference, saying, “We passed the most pro-life legislation in history.”

Earlier this year, the House attached abortion provisions to other bills, including one on human trafficking and one that dealt primarily with the way doctors are paid by Medicare. This enraged Democrats and prompted a protracted fight.

Now, with Planned Parenthood under fire after the release of four videos based on secret recordings in which officials discussed the sale of fetal tissue, Republicans feel emboldened in their efforts to cut off federal funds for the organization.

On Wednesday, three Republican senators — James Lankford of Oklahoma, Joni Ernst of Iowa and Rand Paul of Kentucky — introduced a bill scheduled for a vote next week that would redirect all Planned Parenthood federal funding to community health centers that treat women.

“I feel it’s incredibly important that we raise the issue, and that we address this immediately, and that we continue to provide funding for women’s health,” Mr. Lankford said. “But we don’t continue to provide funding for an organization that makes part of their money off the death of that child, and then part of the money off the sale of the parts of that child to different research facilities.”

It was not clear if Mr. Lankford — a former director of a large Baptist youth camp who is deeply devoted to the issue of ending abortions but is also a careful legislator who works closely with leadership — would vote against a spending bill to keep the government open in an attempt to take the group’s money away.

For his part, Mr. Boehner said more investigation was needed to gather support for withdrawing funding.



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