Congressional Republicans and the Obama administration are headed for another federal spending showdown, this time over legislation that would defund Planned Parenthood.
The health organization has long been a target of social conservatives because it provides abortions at its clinics, which are prevented from using government funds for abortions. But the organization has come under tremendous scrutiny following a string of hidden-camera videos that show agency officials talking about the prices medical researchers pay for fetal body parts and fetal tissue.
More videos are expected to be released in the days and weeks ahead.
The controversy is the latest addition to a stack of issues that threaten to derail Washington before the end of the fiscal year and lead to the kind of fiscal cliffhanger Republican leaders promised to avoid in last year’s midterm election.
A spending fight involving a social issue like abortion could strike an especially deep nerve on Capitol Hill, given the anti-abortion sentiment among the GOP and some moderate Democrats, and leave bruised egos throughout the 2016 campaign season.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the Republican whip, told reporters Wednesday that the chamber would look to vote Monday on legislation sponsored by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) to strip Planned Parenthood’s $528 million in annual government funding, provided the GOP is able to get the necessary 60 votes to push ahead on the bill.
That seems unlikely, given Democratic support for Planned Parenthood and worries about the legislation from moderate Republicans, such as Sen. Susan Collins (ME). She has expressed concerns that the bill denies women from receiving other healthcare services the agency offers, like birth-control consultations and routine checkups, including mammograms.
Ernst’s measure also threatens to split the typically ironclad Senate GOP caucus. A number of Republicans who represent Blue States are up for reelection next year, including Sens. Mark Kirk (IL) and Ron Johnson (WI), could vote against the legislation.
On Thursday, the White House said President Obama opposes any bill to defund Planned Parenthood.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest, who accused Republicans of trying "to play some politics with some selectively edited videos" that were released in a "fraudulent way,” stopped shy of issuing a formal veto threat against the legislation.
But, he said, “On balance, the president would not be supportive of such congressional action.” Earnest added, “This is a tactic we have seen used before…. The president obviously does not support that ongoing effort.”
Some conservatives remain undaunted. They are vowing to take the spending fight into the fall if they have to. Sen. Ted Cruz (TX), a 2016 presidential contender told Politico that he “would support any and all legislative efforts to defund Planned Parenthood.”
“We do not need a legislative show-vote,” he added, referring to the chances surrounding Ernst’s bill.
Sens. Jeff Sessions (AL) and James Lankford (OK) are also reportedly considering adding riders that would zero out Planned Parenthood’s funding to government spending bills and a group of 18 House lawmakers wrote House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to back legislation choking off the agency’s funding.
While it remains to be seen how things will play out in Congress, there is no doubt that the clips, which contain gruesome abortion clinic footage, have prompted visceral reactions in the Capitol and on the 2016 campaign trail.
“If you saw the video, it certainly didn’t strike me that way,” Boehner said during a press conference earlier this month. “I could talk about the video but I think I’d vomit trying to talk about it. It’s disgusting.”
In an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader earlier this week, Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton called images the videos “disturbing.”
However, “Planned Parenthood for more than a century has done a lot of really good work for women,” she added.