- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 16, 2015

House Republicans emerged from a closed-door meeting Wednesday deeply divided about how to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood while avoiding a budget standoff that threatens another government shutdown at the end of the month.

Lawmakers said the meeting, which lasted more than an hour, was dominated by members venting frustration with House Speaker John A. Boehner and an appropriations process that repeatedly brings the government to the brink of a shutdown, but rarely scores victories on conservatives’ goals such as defunding Planned Parenthood.

The path forward remained uncertain, though the House will vote on two antiabortion bills Friday that Republican leaders hope will placate their conference’s conservative members and clear the way for a stopgap spending bill to keep the government open past a Sept. 30 deadline.

“I’ve been here 11 years, and it’s as much up in the air as anything I’ve ever seen,” Rep. Kenny Marchant, Texas Republican, said as he left the meeting at the Capitol.

He raised doubts that the two antiabortion bills would avert a shutdown showdown over funding Planned Parenthood. “I don’t think that will be the end of it,” he said.

House Democratic leaders have vowed that their members would force a shutdown to protect federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood became the epicenter of the abortion debate after a series of undercover videos showed, among other things, the group’s executives haggling over prices for fetal organs and discussing altering procedure so as to procure better organs.

The videos spurred a push by Republicans to completely cut off the roughly $500 million in federal funds that go to the organization’s pockets every year for health care services that supposedly do not include abortions.

The tenth video in the series was released Tuesday. It showed Carolyn Westhoff, senior medical adviser for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, discussing sales of fetal parts with a prospective buyer and acknowledging concerns about the practice being exposed.

“We’ve just been working with people who want particular tissues, like, you know, they want cardiac, or they want eyes, or they want neural,” she says in the video. “Oh, gonads! Oh my God, gonads. Everything we provide is fresh.”

Ms. Westhoff adds: “Obviously, we would have the potential for a huge PR issue by doing this.”

Planned Parenthood officials contend the videos, made by the pro-life Center for Medical Progress, have been selectively edited to make false claims about its operations and its handling of fetal tissue.

About 50 House Republicans, led by the conservative House Freedom Caucus, are refusing to back any spending bills that include money for Planned Parenthood.

As he looks to avoid a shutdown, Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, again finds himself at odds with conservative lawmakers of his own caucus who have been deeply disappointed by his dealmaking with Democrats and his unwillingness to take on Mr. Obama.

Mr. Boehner and his leadership team are desperate to avoid a government shutdown, convinced the GOP would be blamed for a shutdown, as occurred in 2013 when the government partially closed for 16 days when Republicans attempted to defund Obamacare.

“Our leadership isn’t leading,” said Rep. Dave Brat, Virginia Republican. “The American people, I think, are begging to figure out the game this little two-step.”

The bills scheduled for a vote Friday in the House would put a one-year moratorium on federal funding for Planned Parenthood and impose criminal penalties on abortion doctors who fail to take life-saving measures for babies who survive abortion procedures.

Mr. Boehner and his allies have been working to convince rank-and-file Republicans that the stopgap spending bill is the wrong place to go after funding for Planned Parenthood, which receives most of its federal funds from Medicaid spending that would not be affected by the stopgap measure.

Rep. Tom Cole, chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that handles Planned Parenthood funding and a close ally of Mr. Boehner, said the two antiabortion bills were the “right way to go.”

He insisted that his subcommittee had already eliminated all the regular funding for Planned Parenthood, but it would take new laws to do away with Medicaid dollars that go to it.

“Look, Obamacare was unpopular, and we shut down the government, and it didn’t work,” he said. “Planned Parenthood is not nearly as unpopular. As a matter of fact, it has a net positive rating and unanimous Democratic support.”

He said that lawmakers would have to build the case against Planned Parenthood with congressional hearings and investigation, which are already in the works.

The push for a shutdown showdown over Planned Parenthood suffered a setback when National Right to Life, a leading antiabortion group, came out against the tactic.

“Quite frankly, I think Planned Parenthood is a vile organization, and I resent the fact that they get any tax money,” said Carol Tobias, the organization’s president. “But realistically, with President Obama in the White House holding that veto pen, I don’t know that any government shutdown could accomplish what we want. What we have to do is get a new pro-life president in, and we’d have a much better chance of actually taking away their money.”

The House Freedom Caucus also suffered a defection, with one of its members quitting the group, citing opposition to the shutdown strategy.

Rep. Tom McClintock, California Republican, said he was resigning from the House Freedom Caucus because its proclivity for breaking with Republican leaders has not advanced a conservative agenda but instead empowered the chamber’s Democratic minority.

Mr. McClintock said the Freedom Caucus’ tactics had backfired in the spending battle over President Obama’s deportation amnesty in the vote to give the president power to fast-track trade bills and in the vote on the Iran nuclear agreement.

“A common theme through each of these incidents is a willingness — indeed, an eagerness — to strip the House Republican majority of its ability to set the House agenda by combining with House Democrats on procedural motions,” he wrote. “As a result, it has thwarted vital conservative policy objectives and unwittingly become Nancy Pelosi’s tactical ally.”

Rep. John Fleming, Louisiana Republican and a member of the Freedom Caucus, said he respected Mr. McClintock and his decision to resign. But Mr. Fleming said that he was prepared to go to the mat to defund Planned Parenthood.

“The thing I hear the most from my constituents is congressmen should stand on principles,” he said. “If you can’t stand of the principle of not selling human baby parts, what can you take a stand on?”

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