The bill to defund Planned Parenthood was defeated in the Senate Monday, but conservatives’ antipathy toward the organization burns as hot as ever – and now they're discussing shutting down the government over it.
Republican opponents of Planned Parenthood are divided on the next step toward defunding the organization, Politico reported, but some are hoping to embed the action into this fall’s government funding bill – a bill that, if rejected by Democrats, would shut down the government, like it did in 2013.
Leading the charge is senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz (R) of Texas, who led the GOP in shutting down the government two years ago over opposition to the Affordable Care Act. The Texas senator told Politico a shutdown was fair game.
"We should use any and every procedural means we have available to end funding for Planned Parenthood," Senator Cruz said. "It should be a very easy decision that taxpayer funds will not go to fund an ongoing criminal enterprise."
Planned Parenthood has come under scrutiny since secretly recorded videos, purporting to show an employee talking about illegal selling aborted fetal tissue, were released by an anti-abortion group. Planned Parenthood says that the employee was discussing the legal donation of fetal tissue for medical purposes.
Cruz has the moral support of fellow candidate Donald Trump, who lacks a vote in Congress but said in an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt that he believed the GOP should have "stuck together" in solidarity with Cruz both in 2013 and now.
Much of the Republican party, however, has been quick to emphasize that a government shutdown is neither likely nor desirable. "I realize some people want to write this is going to be shutdown material … It’s not," Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas told Politico. "But we’re serious about it."
If 2013 is any indication, some are saying, a shutdown might not even work. The Affordable Care Act passed despite the government’s two-week closure, and Sen. Dan Coats (R) of Indiana said a repeat attempt would be equally ineffective.
"We have a president who we have learned over seven years of time is not going to be persuaded to change his mind over anything he doesn’t like," Senator Coats told Politico. "If we had never done this [in 2013] you would be more likely to convince people this is a tactic that would work.… Unless someone can convince me that tactic will cause the president to do a 180, we’re just gonna end up with the same results as last time.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House John Boehner are caught in the middle. Their need to placate conservative legislators like Cruz clashes with their need to demonstrate that they can pass vital government funding bills.
So far, they have successfully dodged the issue. Representative Boehner declined to hold a vote to defund Planned Parenthood in the House before the August recess, and Senator McConnell evaded questions about tucking defunding into the fall spending bill.
But the movement to revoke Planned Parenthood’s funding is not shutdown-or-bust. Two GOP senators are working on a plan to find middle ground between shutting down the government and dropping the issue completely.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R), one of the 53 senators that voted Monday in favor of defunding, and Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, the only Republican to vote against it, have proposed a 90-day investigation into Planned Parenthood, intentionally extending it beyond the government spending bill’s September deadline. The government would then vote on whether to defund any branches of the organization found to be participating in illegal activity, Politico reported.
The Christian Science Monitor's Francine Kiefer also wrote that Senator Collins "voiced concern that other health centers would be overwhelmed if they had to pick up Planned Parenthood patients – a point vigorously made by Democrats."
Planned Parenthood maintains that none of its federal funding pays for abortions and that it has not participated in any illegal activity.