GOP Picks its Reconciliation Targets: Planned Parenthood and Obamacare

Republicans will deploy the budget tool to try to put legislation on the president’s desk stripping Planned Parenthood funding and killing key parts of the Affordable Care Act.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan
Bloomberg AFP/Getty
Caitlin Owens
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Caitlin Owens
Sept. 28, 2015, 11:46 a.m.

Fi­nally, the ques­tion of how Re­pub­lic­ans will use budget re­con­cili­ation is be­ing answered.

Both the House En­ergy and Com­merce and Ways and Means com­mit­tees will mark up re­con­cili­ation le­gis­la­tion this week, with the end goal of even­tu­ally put­ting bills from all five rel­ev­ant House and Sen­ate com­mit­tees in­to a pack­age that can pass in the up­per cham­ber with only 51 votes—and then head straight for Obama’s veto pen.

The En­ergy and Com­merce bill con­tains a pro­vi­sion de­fund­ing Planned Par­ent­hood for one year, re­dir­ect­ing the $230 mil­lion in sav­ings to com­munity-health cen­ters. It also re­peals the Af­ford­able Care Act’s Pre­ven­tion and Pub­lic Health fund, which saves about $12 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to seni­or com­mit­tee staff.

The Ways and Means bill elim­in­ates ma­jor pieces of the ACA, ren­der­ing it es­sen­tially moot. In­cluded are re­peals of all of Re­pub­lic­ans’ most-hated pieces of the law: the in­di­vidu­al man­date, the em­ploy­er man­date, the med­ic­al-device tax, the “Ca­dillac” tax on high-cost health care plans, and the In­de­pend­ent Pay­ment Ad­vis­ory Board.

A third House com­mit­tee, Edu­ca­tion and Work­force, will also con­trib­ute a piece to the re­con­cili­ation pack­age. The two Sen­ate com­mit­tees with jur­is­dic­tion are Fin­ance and Health, Edu­ca­tion, Labor and Pen­sions.

“We … will take steps to pro­tect tax­pay­er dol­lars from pro­grams and or­gan­iz­a­tions that do not live up to the stand­ards and pri­or­it­ies of the Amer­ic­an people,” said En­ergy and Com­merce Chair­man Fred Up­ton in a state­ment. “As this com­mit­tee con­tin­ues to in­vest­ig­ate Planned Par­ent­hood and its af­fil­i­ates, the flow of tax­pay­er dol­lars should end.”

Budget rules al­low for a re­con­cili­ation bill to con­tain mul­tiple pro­vi­sions in dif­fer­ent areas, as long as they all fall with­in the jur­is­dic­tion of the five rel­ev­ant com­mit­tees.

Sev­er­al steps of the re­con­cili­ation pro­cess re­main, but it seems that as the dust is set­tling, the fu­ture is be­com­ing more clear: Con­gress will pass a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion that funds both the gov­ern­ment and Planned Par­ent­hood un­til Decem­ber, and then at some point it will pass a bill that both re­peals ma­jor pieces of the Af­ford­able Care Act and de­funds Planned Par­ent­hood. Obama, of course, will veto the bill.

Spe­cif­ics aside, the pro­ced­ur­al tool will be used as a way for con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans to gain a small, if largely sym­bol­ic, vic­tory after a long sum­mer of fall­ing on the los­ing side of in­tense par­tis­an de­bates in the health care arena. If all goes ac­cord­ing to plan, it will al­low the GOP to point to con­crete ex­amples of what it has done as the ma­jor­ity party in both cham­bers of Con­gress, but also of what could be­come law un­der a new pres­id­ent with dif­fer­ent val­ues in 2017.

Re­con­cili­ation first be­came a sub­ject of fierce de­bate as Con­gress waited for the Su­preme Court to de­cide King v. Bur­well, a case chal­len­ging sub­sidies giv­en un­der the ACA on fed­er­al ex­changes. Had the Court ruled against the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, it would have blown a hole in the law and threatened the health cov­er­age of thou­sands. Sev­er­al plans to tem­por­ar­ily ex­tend sub­sidies while re­peal­ing big pieces of the law began emer­ging in the Sen­ate, in­tro­duced by Re­pub­lic­ans but dis­missed as non­starters by Demo­crats. Re­con­cili­ation came up as a way to put the “King fixes” on the pres­id­ent’s desk without the as­sist­ance of Demo­crats.

But the Su­preme Court sided with the ad­min­is­tra­tion and the law was left in­tact, leav­ing Re­pub­lic­ans with the sud­den di­lemma of what came next—if any­thing—in their re­lent­less quest against Obama­care. The an­swer quickly emerged: The GOP, for the most part, punted to 2017 and the pos­sib­il­ity of a Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­ent who will sign a re­peal bill.

But be­fore that, they said, re­con­cili­ation could be used to put an Obama­care re­peal in front of the pres­id­ent, as con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans had prom­ised the voters who sent them to Wash­ing­ton they would. While it seemed widely un­der­stood that this was the most likely use of the budget tool, however, lead­er­ship re­peatedly em­phas­ized that there was no rush to use it.

“It’s still open. No fi­nal de­cision has been made,” Sen. John Bar­rasso told re­port­ers in early Ju­ly. “Had the Su­preme Court ruled the oth­er way, there would have been an im­me­di­acy to have to use re­con­cili­ation with re­gard to a King de­cision, but since the de­cision went the oth­er way, that im­me­di­acy isn’t there. So re­con­cili­ation is still a use­ful tool, and I ex­pect it to be used.”

And then came a new con­tro­versy: fed­er­al fund­ing of Planned Par­ent­hood. Less than a month after the Af­ford­able Care Act sur­vived its second Su­preme Court chal­lenge, a series of sting videos tar­get­ing the wo­men’s health care or­gan­iz­a­tion stirred an­oth­er bit­terly par­tis­an fight on Cap­it­ol Hill. The videos al­legedly show Planned Par­ent­hood selling fetal tis­sue, which is il­leg­al. The or­gan­iz­a­tion denies the al­leg­a­tions, say­ing that it only donates the tis­sue for med­ic­al re­search and is re­im­bursed for over­head costs. Sev­er­al con­gres­sion­al in­vest­ig­a­tions are un­der­way.

But simply in­vest­ig­at­ing the or­gan­iz­a­tion and its activ­it­ies is not enough for most Re­pub­lic­ans, who want to see the or­gan­iz­a­tion lose its fed­er­al fund­ing. A group of right-wing con­ser­vat­ives in the House, joined by pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate Sen. Ted Cruz, began call­ing for a de­fund pro­vi­sion to be in­cluded in a must-pass spend­ing bill, even if that led to a gov­ern­ment shut­down.

GOP lead­er­ship, on the oth­er hand, learned from the shut­down in 2013, in which Cruz played a lead­ing role as well. Not only was the party un­suc­cess­ful in its at­tack against the Af­ford­able Care Act, but it also shouldered the blame for a 16-day shut­down that en­raged many Amer­ic­ans. Both House and Sen­ate lead­ers have in­sisted the gov­ern­ment will not shut down again this year.

To pla­cate con­ser­vat­ives, however, lead­er­ship said a strip­ping of Planned Par­ent­hood fund­ing should in­stead be put in a re­con­cili­ation bill. House Speak­er John Boehner dis­cussed this al­tern­at­ive with House lead­er­ship in a meet­ing just a day be­fore he an­nounced his resig­na­tion last week. He resigned amid pres­sure from the House Free­dom Caucus, whose mem­bers were threat­en­ing to try to oust him as speak­er if the spend­ing bill pro­cess didn’t go their way. His resig­na­tion re­moves that threat, clear­ing the way for a short-term, clean spend­ing bill to pass through the House and thus avert­ing a shut­down.

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