Paul Gordon Collier- For the past 6 years, the looming possibility of a government shutdown comes upon us about this time thanks in large part to the failure of congress and the executive branch to pass a budget. This year, the possibility of a shutdown is coming over the fight to fund planned parenthood.
The last time a complete federal budget was passed and signed by the President was in 2002. Since then, continuing resolutions have become the method of funding the government. The last 6 years have seen annual threats of government shutdown.
A significant number of republicans in the House and Senate are threatening to not vote for an continuing resolution that includes funding planned parenthood. The controversy over funding planned parenthood comes from the controversial undercover videos released by the Center for Medical Progress that shows top-ranking Planned Parenthood officials engaging in the selling of fetal body parts.
In the Senate, Utah Senator (R) Mike Lee is leading the charge, though he has expressed frustration in the yearly all-or-nothing practice of the continuing resolutions that take the place of an actual budget (a continuing resolution is a partial spending bill designed to keep the government funded until an actual budget is passed).
One thing about a continuing resolution is you must vote yes or no on a federal budget that is lumped together in one bill. This type of legislation offers little opportunity to tweak and modify the budget.
Senator Lee stated, “If we can’t make any changes to spending without shutting down the government, then we might as well fold up this circus tent and go home. If what they’re saying is you can’t propose spending changes of any sort, even for a dysfunctional program, or even worse, for a program that involves funding for the sale of human body parts, then we’ve got a big problem.”
However, even Mike Lee has expressed skepticism that an actual government shutdown will occur, while the House and Senate GOP leadership have declared their intention to avoid a government shutdown.
“I have not made any decisions, no decisions at this point,” Speaker John Boehner (R- OH) stated. His counterpart in the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R- KY), has also expressed doubts that a shutdown occur, citing Democrat numbers that would prevent a funding bill from passing that included federal dollars for Planned Parenthood. The bill would need 61 votes to break a filibuster, then 67 votes to override an expected veto by President Obama.
The Republican leadership is gun-shy when it comes to a government shutdown after the 16-day shutdown in 2013. It should be noted that the 2013 shutdown was followed by a 2014 general election that saw Republicans take back the Senate and gain a super majority in the House.
Still, the lessons the GOP leadership have learned can be summed in McConnell’s statement that there is “no education in the second kick of a mule.”
Despite the leadership’s wishes to get past this latest CR with the least bit of controversy as possible, the republicans face conflict from within the party from the more conservative members of the party, who not only have more of a commitment to defund planned parenthood, but see this as an opportunity to further undermine the leadership of John Boehner.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), one of the leaders of a caucus formed in opposition to the GOP leadership, the Freedom Caucus, said, “We’re setting up for surrender. Leadership is going to have to choose: Do they want it to be a talking point, or do they want to actually do something about it?”
“Until Mitch wakes up and realizes that he’s no different than Harry Reid right now, it’s going to be a real rugged couple of months,” Mulvaney said.
At least 36 republicans may not vote to pass a CR that includes funding for planned parenthood, meaning John Boehner will have to turn to democrats to try to pass a CR with funding for Planned Parenthood. A reliance on democrats to pass a CR would further damage Boehner not just among more conservative congress members, but also among republican rank and file, who already disapprove of Boehner’s leadership.
The democrats, seeing an opportunity to get some budget concerns of their own passed, are not offering a rubber stamp to Boehner. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wants, in exchange for democrat votes to pass a CR, ‘loosening restrains under the 20111 Budget Control Act;, also known as “sequestration.”
The Democrats also want more of a 50/50 divide in increased spending for domestic programs and defense spending. “We want to see some progress but, again, let’s come to the table and say what is our goal, what is our timetable and what are our milestones,” Pelosi said.
If Boehner does turn to the Democrats to pass a CR, while making major concessions to the democrats to do so, it will further embolden the House republicans who are already moving to pass a no-confidence vote for Boehner. If just 28 republicans vote no confidence, then a new election for Speaker would be invoked. Boehner would need democrat votes to get re-elected as the speaker, which would give the democrats even more power in the House, despite having a significant minority in the House.
Nancy Pelosi is well aware of Boehner’s need to rely on democrats both for a CR, as well as to potentially hold on to his speakership. In that spirit, Pelosi declared, “Anti-governance, anti-science and anti-President Obama. They have a trifecta, three comfort levels at which they will shut down the government and be very happy about it.”
A CR must be passed by September 30th of this year in order to keep the government funded. With the possibility of a Boehner-Pelosi alliance needed to pass a CR in the House that includes funding for Planned Parenthood, as well as for Boehner to potentially hold on to his speakership, what remains to be seen is how far the more conservative group of republicans in the House are willing to go to force such an alliance.