- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Nearly a dozen Republican freshmen urged party colleagues to avoid tactics that risk another federal shutdown, while a leading Democrat said Wednesday his party will not “burn down the House” in pursuit of a stopgap spending deal, as congressional factions jockeyed to avoid political blowback and meet next week’s deadline to fund the government.

A “Dear colleague” letter warns fellow Republicans of the pitfalls that accompany a tea party bid to reject any spending plan that doesn’t defund Planned Parenthood in the wake of videos showing its officials, among other things, haggling over prices for harvested fetal organs.

While not invoking Planned Parenthood by name, the freshmen say they don’t want an “unnecessary and harmful” repeat of the 16-day shutdown that followed a 2013 bid to defund Obamacare.

“As freshman Members of the House Republican Conference, we were elected by our constituents to be principled, pragmatic leaders,” said the letter, which listed Reps. Elise Stefanik of New York and Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania as lead writers. “They expect us to fulfill our responsibilities, avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, and live up to our commitment to work every day to help keep the American economy moving forward.”

Funding for many basic federal operations expires Sept. 30, which is the end of fiscal year 2015, and Congress has stalemated over the dozen spending bills to cover 2016. That’s left lawmakers scrambling to agree on a short-term spending measure to buy themselves time for a long-term deal, although abortion-tinged politics and intra-GOP bickering have roiled the debate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, scheduled a test vote for Thursday — moments after Pope Francis addresses Congress — on a continuing resolution that funds the government through Dec. 11 while redirecting $235 million from Planned Parenthood to community health centers.

Some Republicans and Democrats say it’s a show vote to mollify conservatives who’ve led the outrage over the Planned Parenthood videos. They believe Senate leaders will jam the House with a “clean” resolution without the Planned Parenthood provision, after Democrats filibuster Mr. McConnell’s initial offer.

“We’re going to have the vote that I described on Thursday and we’ll see what happens after that,” Mr. McConnell told reporters this week.

But Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican and 2016 presidential contender, and his House allies accused their own party of failing to leverage “must-pass” spending legislation to extract conservative wins from President Obama.

“If you forfeit before the game starts, you’re probably not going to win the game,” Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican and member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said in an interview.

He said the GOP majority needs to “elevate the debate” over Planned Parenthood by sending a continuing resolution to the Senate that funds the government at levels Democrats agreed to under the so-called Ryan-Murray plan of 2013, while directing funds away from the controversial abortion provider.

“We’re the House, we should act first,” he said, citing the chamber’s traditional role in crafting spending bills.

The political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation piled on, urging lawmakers to vote “no” on any resolution that funds Planned Parenthood and accusing GOP leaders of relinquishing Congress’ power of the purse.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said he is hopeful that GOP leaders who control Congress will resist their conservative flank and put a funding bill on the floor that doesn’t wade into women’s health issues, though he “recognized the plight” of Speaker John A. Boehner as he tries to wrangle his fractious caucus.

He said Democrats stand ready to negotiate on a measure that doesn’t wade into the Planned Parenthood fight, even if their own wishlist includes funding boosts for both domestic programs and defense.

“We’re not for burning down the House,” Mr. Hoyer said. “We’re for fixing the House.”

Yet already, federal agencies are girding for the worst.

“It is only prudent for the federal government to begin planning for the possibility that the government could shut down,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said. “And so at this point, they’re only in the planning stage.”

Ben Wolfgang contributed to this report.

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