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GOP Strategizes Over Planned Parenthood; Government Shutdown Looms


Here is an all too familiar Washington story. The federal government is set to run out of funding in a week and a half. Between now and then, Congress will begin session only a handful of days. Dozens of House Republicans have promised to hold up any spending bill that continues to provide federal funds to Planned Parenthood. That's because of videos that accused the group of selling fetal tissue. As NPR's Ailsa Chang reports, all this points to the threat of another government shutdown.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: In 2013, it was about repealing Obamacare. This year, it's about defunding Planned Parenthood. But apart from that one difference, Capitol Hill sounds almost exactly the same as time is running out again to prevent a government shutdown. It's the sound of, I don't know what we're going to do.

RICHARD HUDSON: I'm for defunding this practice, and the best strategy to do that's what I'm for. And I'm not sure we're sure what that is yet. I know we're not sure what that is yet.

JOHN FLEMING: It's not just one step to victory here. This may have to be incremental.

CHARLIE DENT: The engines of the plane are revving right now on the runway. And there's a plan to take it up in the air, but there's no plan as where to land it.

CHANG: Republicans Richard Hudson of North Carolina, John Fleming of Louisiana and Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania each want to restrict funding for Planned Parenthood clinics. The problem is House Republicans can't agree on the best way to do that. Many of them have vowed they'll only accept a government spending bill that strips funding from Planned Parenthood. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says, dream on.


MITCH MCCONNELL: We know the president wouldn't sign such a bill. So it will not succeed. And so I'm not in favor of exercises in futility.

CHANG: Not that the Senate is going to ignore the controversy. Next week, it's voting on a measure that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Meanwhile, the House will be voting on two measures today. One freezes federal funding to Planned Parenthood for a year. The other toughens penalties for failing to provide medical care to infants who survive abortion attempts. But these symbolic votes won't placate conservatives like John Fleming.

FLEMING: It's a good place to start. And maybe for some, it's enough. For me, it's not enough.

CHANG: What conservative Republicans want is a confrontation with the president. They want something that takes aim at Planned Parenthood to land on his desk just to make him veto it. Here's Tim Huelskamp of Kansas.

TIM HUELSKAMP: I'd like for him to stand up as president of the United States and defend this wholesale slaughter and resale of baby parts. He has not done that.

CHANG: So there's talk about using a procedural shortcut called reconciliation to pass a measure defunding Planned Parenthood. Reconciliation lets certain bills clear the Senate more easily by requiring only a simple majority rather than the usual 60 votes to get through. But Republican Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania says sending over a bill that the president is definitely going to veto is pointless.

DENT: I've always wanted to use reconciliation to get something done, not to make a point or make a statement. That's always been my view.

CHANG: But House Speaker John Boehner needs to find some way to show his most conservative members he listens and he cares. They've been grumbling about his leadership for a while. And Matt Salmon of Arizona says now Boehner is on notice. He needs to deliver.

MATT SALMON: It's the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back. I think that we've seen promises to fight tooth and nail on things in the past and it hasn't really materialized. I think that there will be a point where, you know, the thin ice breaks.

CHANG: And while Republicans anguish over what their best strategy is, Democrats, like Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, are gloating.


CHUCK SCHUMER: There's an old saying - never put off until tomorrow what you can accomplish today. But that is not the motto of the Republican leaders in Congress.

CHANG: Well, maybe that's not fair. Congress has never had a reputation for finishing anything ahead of time, no matter what party's in charge. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.

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