GOP leaders hope Right to Life can help head off shutdown

Written by Muleskinner Staff

By ALAN FRAM
Associated Press
(WASHINGTON, AP) — Hoping to prevent the Republican uproar over the Planned Parenthood videos from snowballing into a government shutdown, GOP leaders are turning for help to polling data and one of the nation’s most powerful anti-abortion groups.
At a meeting Thursday of House Republicans, leaders described GOP polls showing the public is strongly against a federal shutdown and would likely blame Republicans if one occurred, said lawmakers who attended the closed-door session. Some conservatives want the GOP-controlled Congress to approve a bill keeping the government open starting Oct. 1 only if it also blocks federal payments to Planned Parenthood.
“The message was there that this is a politically losing strategy that would put our own majority in peril,” Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., who is close to party leaders, said of the polling.
In addition, top Republicans have spread the word that even the National Right to Life Committee — which favors cutting off Planned Parenthood’s funds — doubts the wisdom of risking a shutdown over that issue. The group is the largest and perhaps most influential anti-abortion organization.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said of Right to Life on Wednesday, “It’s a strategy they don’t think makes much sense because it doesn’t succeed.”
Last month, Senate Democrats derailed a bill stopping federal funds for Planned Parenthood. McConnell says he lacks the votes to force such legislation through the Senate and President Barack Obama would veto such legislation anyway.
So for now, GOP leaders are pushing free-standing bills blocking Planned Parenthood’s money and curbing abortion that are not tied to money to keep the government functioning. In addition, four congressional committees are investigating Planned Parenthood.
Right to Life’s leaders released a statement this week endorsing a bill by Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., halting federal payments to Planned Parenthood for a year. The House plans to approve that bill on Friday, along with another by Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., setting criminal penalties for medical providers who don’t try saving babies born live during abortions..
But the Right to Life statement was pointedly silent about the merits of enmeshing a cutoff of Planned Parenthood’s money with legislation keeping government functioning.
“We want people to think about what a government shutdown would do,” National Right to Life President Carol Tobias said in an interview Wednesday. She said of Obama, “As long as he’s in that Oval Office with a veto pen, it’s difficult to see how we could win that battle.”
Tobias said Right to Life is concerned that a shutdown over Planned Parenthood could harm the anti-abortion cause in the long run, adding, “If we want to save babies, if we want to defund Planned Parenthood, we have to put a pro-life president in the White House” in next year’s elections.
Many conservatives, however, want to plunge ahead and confront Obama on the issue. They say bills not tied to government funding are meaningless show votes — legislation that amounts mostly to political symbolism — because Obama could veto them without consequences.
“Our leaders wave the white flag every time there’s a confrontation,” said Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz.
The issue has risen to the forefront with this summer’s release of Planned Parenthood videos secretly recorded by abortion foes. They contend the videos show that Planned Parenthood illegally profits by selling tissue from aborted fetuses to medical researchers.
Planned Parenthood has said the videos were deceptively edited and it has done nothing wrong. It says a handful of its nearly 700 clinics have legally accepted payments covering their expenses for the tissue.
Obama was meeting at the White House Thursday with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
One option GOP leaders are considering would be to block Planned Parenthood’s money with a bill unrelated to financing the government, but with procedural protections against a Democratic Senate filibuster. That would make it likelier to reach Obama’s desk, though it would still certainly be vetoed.
The Senate is expected to debate legislation next week barring most late-term abortions.
Senate Democrats seem likely to block that bill and the two the House was ready to approve on Friday. The White House said late Wednesday that Obama would veto the two House bills because the result would be “limiting women’s health care choices.”
Planned Parenthood gets about $450 million in federal funds annually, the Congressional Budget Office says, virtually none of which can be used for abortions. That’s a third of its $1.3 billion budget.
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Eds: AP reporter Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.