A bruising showdown over Planned Parenthood spending is shaping up for when Congress returns to work next week. The White House and Democratic lawmakers are lining up against Republican efforts to slash the funds in response to controversial, secretly-taped videos showing a Planned Parenthood official blithely discussing the sale of aborted fetuses to researchers.
While the political conflict will be intense, the real fireworks are likely to be between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, the conservative firebrand and one of 17 GOP presidential candidates. Cruz has vowed to support “any and all legislative efforts” to defund Planned Parenthood when the House and Senate take up spending legislation this fall.
Cruz almost single-handedly forced the 16-day government shutdown in October 2013 over Obamacare funding, and he has signaled he would be willing to risk another shutdown this fall if necessary to force a cut in federal funding of Planned Parenthood’s operations. The goal would be to attach an amendment that would eliminate Planned Parenthood’s $528 million of annual government funding to a continuing resolution necessary to keep the government operating beyond the start of a new fiscal year
Several other conservatives in the Senate including Jeff Sessions of Alabama and James Langford of Oklahoma have indicated an interest in backing Cruz’s efforts, according to Politico. Nearly 20 other conservatives in the House said in a letter that they “cannot and will not” support spending legislation that allows continued funding of Planned Parenthood.
But in a wide-ranging interview with a television station in Hazard, Ky., on Monday, McConnell essentially raised the white flag and said that there was no way Republicans can cut funding for Planned Parenthood and overcome a certain veto by President Obama.
Since taking charge of the Senate in January, McConnell has vowed that he would not allow another government shutdown – one that might boomerang against the Republicans heading into the 2016 presidential and congressional elections. The majority leader said yesterday that he would work with the Obama administration and Democrats to carve out a final budget deal to keep the government operating beyond the start of the new fiscal year, Oct. 1.
“The Senate Democrats have a big enough number to prevent us from doing things,” McConnell told WYMT television. “They prevented us from doing any of the bills that appropriate money for the government, thereby forcing a negotiation when we go back in after Labor Day, which I’ll be engaged in with the administration and others to try to sort out how much we’re going to spend and where we’re going to spend it,.”
Sounding a voice of reason amid the usual cacophony of partisan bickering, McConnell said that he and the Republicans “just don’t have the votes to get the outcome that we’d like” on Planned Parenthood, and that nothing can change that until Obama leaves the White House.
“I would remind all of your viewers: The way you make a law in this country, the Congress has to pass it and the president has to sign it,” McConnell said, as if he were delivering a stern civics lesson. “The president has made it very clear he’s not going to sign any bill that includes defunding of Planned Parenthood, so that’s another issue that awaits a new president hopefully with a different point of view about Planned Parenthood.”
But for Cruz and his allies, partisanship and politics usually trump sound legislative tactics, and Cruz can be counted on to deliver another boffo performance on the Senate floor when the issue comes to a head. Cruz frequently has voiced disdain for the Republican leadership, saying they have refused to take advantage of their majorities in the two chambers to advance GOP policy and doctrine. And with Cruz’s relationship with McConnell at rock bottom, the prospect for bitter exchanges on and off the floor will be great.
The Texas freshman senator has pursued a scorched earth strategy in dealing with members of his own party that has rendered him arguably the least popular member of the Republican conference. Shortly before Congress recessed for summer vacation, Cruz repeatedly accused McConnell of deceiving and lying to Senate Republicans about whether he intended to bring up the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank as part of the Pacific Rim trade bill.
In scathing speeches on the Senate floor over a three day period in late July, Cruz accused McConnell of lying to him and other Republicans about cutting a deal with a number of senators who were offering to support the trade bill in return for a vote to resuscitate the U.S. credit agency. Cruz and scores of other Republicans were fighting to kill off the bank, which they denounced as a prime example of “crony capitalism” and a sop to major multinational corporations.
“Like St. Peter, he repeated it three times,” Cruz said during a floor speech. “He said, ‘The only thing I told the proponents of the Export-Import Bank is like any other senator in this body, they could offer any amendment they liked on any amendable vehicle, but I gave them nothing.’”