Mitch McConnell, Senate Republican Leader, is taking action to show the Republican-controlled House that he does not have the votes in the Senate to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood. To set the stage, McConnell hopes to appease conservatives by scheduling votes on an abortion-ban bill, and a bill to fund women’s community health centers in lieu of Planned Parenthood. Then, when those fail, he would move a clean bill to fund the government until December. That is the plan anyway.
These symbolic votes are coinciding with the Pope’s arrival in Washington DC. One reason for the timing is that Republicans hope the Pontiff will notice how fastidious Republicans are on abortion and contraception. The other reason is that they feel Catholics in Congress will not want to vote against abortion bans and defunding Planned Parenthood with Pope Francis in town. So far, however, the latter hope was wishful thinking.
Democrats blocked the abortion-ban bill from moving forward Tuesday afternoon. They are expected to block the community health center ban bill Wednesday. Then, if McConnell is correct, Democrats will block the spending bill with the Planned Parenthood defunding included. Then Republicans in both Houses will realize that there is no path to de-fund Planned Parenthood in the Senate and therefore there is no point following Senator Ted Cruz over the cliff once again.
Meanwhile, a Republican Senator up for re-election this year, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, took to the floor Tuesday and blasted Ted Cruz and others for trying to shut down the government with no hope of success. In a 15-minute rant on the Senate floor, also broadcast on her Twitter account, Ayotte said the tactic only brings the government closer to the brink of shutdown. She chided her fellow Republicans for pushing a strategy that is a “game of chicken.”
“I’m tired of the political games,” she said. “I’m tired of the president’s game on this. I’m tired of the people on my side of the aisle who are pushing this strategy even though they know they don’t have the votes to pass the U.S. Senate, and they certainly don’t have the votes to override a presidential veto.
Ayotte said she has asked her Republican colleagues who support tethering Planned Parenthood to government funding where they think they will get the votes to reach 60, the number needed simply to pass the bill, and then the 67 needed to override a veto by President Barack Obama.
“We saw the movie in 2013, and I don’t think we should relive that movie,” Ayotte said. “Let’s remember what happened when you shut the government down and you reopen it— it costs you more money. So if you care about the fiscal state of the country, let’s not waste money shutting the government down with no result.”
Another Republican Senator, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee agreed with Ayotte. “We were sent here not to shut down the government, but to make the government operate to the benefit of taxpayers. That’s what we’ll be doing.”
If Congress does not pass a funding bill by the end of September, the government will run out of money and shut down. This is becoming a too familiar operating procedure for Republicans in Congress. Instead of negotiating and compromising, they prefer shutting down the government to flex their muscle. Every time it has happened, they end up re-opening the government with no concessions. The losers are the American taxpayer and the economy. This does not bother the so-called Liberty Caucus in Congress, however.
Republicans in the Liberty Caucus are emboldened by the success Donald Trump and others are having in the presidential race. They miss the point, however, in that Trump and the other outsiders have the support of half the Republicans, but they do not have the support of a majority of Americans. The business community is tearing its hair out over the prospect of another shutdown.
Republicans say they did not pay a price in 2013 when they shut down the government, so they might as well go there again. Perhaps, this time Democrats will remind voters in 2016 that Republicans shut the government down and they can’t be trusted to govern. Stay tuned.