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House Votes to Defund Planned Parenthood, Detached from CR

The House approved a bill to freeze federal funding for Planned Parenthood largely along party lines on Friday. H.R. 3134, the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015 was passed by a 241-187 vote, with two Democrats joining nearly every Republican to block funding for the organization for one year, unless its providers agree to stop performing abortions. During that time period, Congress will investigate the organization’s use of fetal tissue. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.) and Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) voted against the funding freeze, while Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) voted in favor of the bill. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) voted present, to signal his position that the legislation does not go far enough to permanently defund the organization. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the bill would result in a net savings of $235 million in fiscal year 2016. The savings would largely be realized through a reduction in mandatory spending in the form of Medicaid reimbursement to the organization for the health care services other than abortions that it provides. The legislation would reinvest this $235 million in Federally Qualified Health Centers to support women’s health care. Democrats are expected to block the bill in the Senate, and the administration has condemned all efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. The vote on this legislation was held in an attempt by House GOP leadership to prevent further debate on the issue from hindering passage of a continuing resolution (CR). Five legislative days remain to pass a spending bill and avoid a government shutdown, and the coming week will be dominated by Pope Francis’ visit to Washington, D.C. Many conservative lawmakers have promised to defund Planned Parenthood at any cost, and it is unclear whether this vote will appease the 31 members that have pledged not to vote for any spending measure that includes funds for the organization. Meanwhile, Democrats have said they will oppose any bill that attacks the group. One option being floated by some Republicans is the use of a budget reconciliation bill to defund Planned Parenthood, which would only require a simple majority (51) vote in the Senate to advance. The defunding provision could be added to a larger package aimed at the party’s initial goal of repealing portions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) through the reconciliation process while avoiding the threat of a Senate filibuster which requires 60 votes to end debate and proceed on legislation. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) has yet to offer a plan on how to keep the government open once federal funding expires at the end of fiscal year 2015 on September 30. Rep. Boehner’s position as Speaker of the House could be on the line, as there are rumors that the most conservative members of his party may push for a formal leadership change. The House has, however, adopted a rule known as “martial law” that will allow for quick consideration of any measure on September 24, setting up the chamber to potentially debate a CR the same day it is advanced out of the House Rules Committee. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said that he has begun talks with Republican appropriators in the House to assemble a clean, short term CR that would give lawmakers time to negotiate a large fiscal year 2016 budget deal in the same vein as the Ryan-Murray deal of 2013 before the end of the calendar year. The length of such a CR would keep pressure on lawmakers to come up with a longer term budget agreement. Sen. McConnell has maintained his vow that there will be no government shutdown. If such negotiations take place, Democrats and the White House will likely demand the raising of sequestration level spending caps.

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