Once again, the U.S. government faces a potential shutdown next week if Congress fails to pass a measure to fund the federal government by Sept. 30. The controversy centers on some conservatives who want to defund Planned Parenthood, even if it means a shutdown — similar to the standstill sparked by Affordable Care Act opponents that lasted 16 days in 2013.
Senate Democrats blocked a bill on Thursday to keep the government funded through Dec. 11 because it included a GOP provision to strip federal funds from Planned Parenthood. Several factors remain in play that could influence next week’s outcome. Here’s what to watch for.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner unexpectedly announced on Friday that he’ll leave his post at the end of October. The Ohio congressman had been under immense pressure by some on the far right of his party who were threatening to give him the boot if he presented any legislation to fund the government without a provision to defund Planned Parenthood.
Democrats and President Obama have said any budget that doesn’t include funding for the organization — which has faced criticism following the release of controversial, secretly recorded videos alleging the group was selling fetal parts — is a non-starter for them.
The fallout from Boehner stepping down could have one of two consequences. Now that he doesn’t have the threat of being kicked looming over his head, Boehner could rally establishment Republicans and, if need be, make a deal with Democrats to push a budget that would keep the government operating, even if it means funding Planned Parenthood. On the other hand, the announcement could further split his caucus and make it all the more difficult to hammer out a solution to avoid a shutdown.
Will Cruz prolong the fight?
A Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has indicated he’s not giving up anytime soon. Cruz, of course, spearheaded the 2013 shutdown over funding the Affordable Care Act.
Now that Democrats have blocked a bill that defunds Planned Parenthood, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is likely to ask for unanimous consent to vote on a “clean” stop-gap bill — which doesn’t include the Planned Parenthood provision — that would fund the government through Dec. 11. However, Cruz could very well take advantage of opportunities to create procedural roadblocks and slow the process down, giving the House little time to act.
Addressing Planned Parenthood via reconciliation?
While it’s likely Congress will vote on a clean continuing resolution to avoid a shutdown, there’s also the possibility of a separate reconciliation process to defund Planned Parenthood. The measure can’t be filibustered by the upper chamber of Congress, and allows a bill — with just a majority vote in both the House and Senate — to be passed on to the executive branch. This would force Obama to veto the legislation and bring attention to the abortion policy debate. As NBC News notes, that move would make Obama defend Planned Parenthood’s practices. But it is not clear if it would be enough to satisfy the far right.
Kicking the can down the road? Even if Congress manages to pass a “clean budget” extension, it still means lawmakers will have to deal with spending and a debate over the debt ceiling come Dec. 12. Whoever succeeds Boehner will have a big task ahead — right before the Christmas holiday — in terms of trying to rally enough votes to avoid yet another government shutdown.