- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 29, 2015

House and Senate Republican leaders have kicked off budget talks with President Obama as Congress searches for ways to get out of yet another shutdown showdown jam later this year.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky announced the talks Tuesday to reporters, saying he, outgoing House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and Mr. Obama want to set overall spending levels for 2016 and 2017, which would make it possible to write the dozen spending bills required to keep the government open.

“We’d like to settle a top line for both years, so that next year we can have a regular appropriations process,” Mr. McConnell said, assigning blame for this year’s intransigence on Democrats who filibustered annual funding bills over demands for more spending.

“The president and Speaker Boehner and I spoke about getting started on the discussions last week, and I would expect them to start very soon,” he said.

Mr. McConnell couldn’t say how far talks would get before Mr. Boehner steps down Oct. 30.

Democrats welcomed the talks but said the GOP could have saved time and aggravation by coming to the table much sooner, as Mr. Obama made it clear he wouldn’t accept bills that raise defense spending without equal increases for domestic programs.

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“This governing by crisis is no way to run a country,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

The talks reflect the eagerness that GOP leaders have to wean Congress off stopgap funding measures and avoid the type of shutdown showdowns that tarnished their party in 2013, when conservatives led a failed bid to defund Obamacare.

But some conservatives are already skeptical.

“I don’t like a few people deciding the entire budget process for the United States of America,” said Rep. Dave Brat, Virginia Republican. “I want us to go through regular order, go through the Budget Committee and then the Appropriations Committee.”

Needing to buy time for the talks, the Senate will vote Wednesday morning to fund the government through Dec. 11. The House is expected to follow later in the day, just in time for the new fiscal year, which begins Thursday.

The continuing resolution, or “CR,” leaves Planned Parenthood untouched, despite cries from the GOP to defund the organization over a series of undercover videos that appear to show organization officials negotiating the sale of fetal body parts.

Democrats and several Republicans filibustered an earlier attempt to fund the government while redirecting $235 million from the leading abortion provider.

Mr. Boehner is expected to rely on Democratic votes to get the spending measure across the finish line before federal money runs out at midnight Wednesday, since his imminent departure insulates him from the demands of his caucus’ right wing.

Rep. Matt Salmon, Arizona Republican and a member of the House Freedom Caucus that bedeviled Mr. Boehner, said the vote will test members looking to fill the ripple of vacancies left by Mr. Boehner’s departure and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s likely rise to the top slot.

“I fully expect that all those running for leadership positions, they won’t vote for it,” Mr. Salmon said. “I think it would be suicide to do so. I think it will pass with a plethora of Democrat votes and very few Republicans.”

Rather than court another shutdown, House Republicans took the first steps Tuesday to repeal some of the most objectionable parts of Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood through a fast-track procedure.

The House Ways and Means Committee voted 23-14 along party lines to repeal the mandate requiring individuals to hold health insurance and a rule requiring larger employers to provide coverage. It also moved to cancel taxes on medical devices and generous health care plans, and scrap a yet-to-be-formed panel that was designed to rein in Medicare costs but has raised fears it will ration care instead.

Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said the budget tool, known as reconciliation, offered congressional Republicans their best chance to voice their objections to the Affordable Care Act of 2010, as they only need majority support in the Senate to send a bill to the White House, thus avoiding a Democratic filibuster.

“It would dismantle this unworkable law,” said Mr. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican.

Mr. Obama can veto their efforts, yet the GOP wants to prove it can repeal Obamacare with a Republican president in 2017 even if they cannot win a filibuster-proof majority of 60 votes in the Senate.

Later Tuesday, the Energy and Commerce Committee took up a bill that would use reconciliation to defund Planned Parenthood, after a series of undercover videos appeared to show organization officials negotiating the sale of fetal body parts.

The House Budget Committee will forge a single bill out of the recommendations.

Anjali Shastry contributed to this report.

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