With signs that the government could indeed be headed for another government shutdown this fall, an exasperated President Obama urged Republican lawmakers not to “play chicken” with the economic recovery by shuttering federal departments and program for the second time since the fall of 2013.
Congress has just two weeks to cobble together a temporary spending bill or “continuing resolution” to keep the doors to the government open beyond the start of the new fiscal year Oct. 1. But a raging controversy over conservative Republican efforts to slash the Planned Parenthood operating budget by more than $550 million threatens to trigger another government crisis.
Senate and House Republicans are seeking to defund Planned Parenthood in retaliation for its practices of harvesting fetal tissue from abortions for scientific research, a practice highlighted in a series of videos secretly taped by an anti-abortion group. Planned Parenthood officials contend that the videos were heavily edited and distort the organization’s practices.
“The notion we play chicken with an $18 trillion economy … all because of an issue around a woman’s health provider that receives less than 20 cents out of every 1,000 dollars in the federal budget, that’s not good policy making,” Obama said during a speech to the Business Roundtable, a premier group of business executives.
Obama said that the administration and lawmakers “have a chance to grow the economy even faster, lift people’s incomes and prospects even faster,” and must avoid a repeat of the 16-day October 2013 government shutdown, which was triggered by a bitter dispute over funding the Affordable Care Act.
“The last time Republicans shut down the government, it cost our economy billions of dollars; consumer confidence plummeted,” he added, putting the onus on the GOP. “I don’t think anybody here thinks that’s going to be good for your business.”
Obama has vowed to veto any spending bill that includes cuts in Planned Parenthood. He has joined with Senate and House Democratic leaders in seeking a “clean” short-term measure that would buy time for both sides to negotiate a final budget agreement for fiscal 2016.
Beyond the issue of Planned Parenthood spending, the administration is pressing hard for Congress to agree to lift statutory spending caps on domestic and defense spending. Unless those caps are removed, there will be automatic across the board cuts in a vast range of social, educational, economic and defense programs.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said repeatedly he would oppose a government shutdown and has called for a budget summit with the administration and Democratic leaders to iron out a final agreement. However, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is once again caught between nearly 40 arch-conservative members who want to go to the mat over Planned Parenthood and more pragmatic Republicans trying to strike a compromise to keep the government operating.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, a Boehner lieutenant, floated a compromise this week to pass separate legislation under arcane budget reconciliation rules to cut Planned Parenthood’s operating budget. In that way, the Planned Parenthood controversy would be divorced from the larger debate over a continuing resolution, according to Roll Call.
However, conservatives balked at this idea, and Heritage Action for America denounced the idea as a thinly veiled way to skirt the issue. Obama could just as easily veto a separate Planned Parenthood spending bill as he could the continuing resolution, and there would be no way to override the president.
“Between now and the inauguration of the next president, Planned Parenthood will carry out more than 440,000 abortions,” Heritage Action said in a statement released Wednesday morning. “The objective is not simply ‘to get a bill on President Obama’s desk.’ The primary objective is to defund this organization. Pro-life members should not be asked to cast a vote for a bill that sends money to Planned Parenthood.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told reporters today they would be meeting with Obama on Thursday to map out a negotiating strategy.
“We need to get rid of these vexatious riders,” Reid told reporters. “Planned Parenthood is one, abortion is the other.”