CAPITOL HILL - Members of Congress, heading back to Washington after their August recess, will have just a few days in which to pass legislation that will keep the government funded after a current measure expires September 30. With some Republicans saying they want to use the spending bill to defund Planned Parenthood, another budget showdown may be in the works.
The last time a budget battle between the major parties triggered a government shutdown, the fight was over Democratic President Barack Obama’s sweeping health care reform law, which Republicans bitterly opposed. That partial shutdown lasted 16 days.
This time, the issue that has many Republican lawmakers and voters upset is the release of several undercover videos showing some Planned Parenthood employees talking about providing aborted fetal tissue for medical research.
The controversy is compounded by the 2016 presidential race, which is already underway, said budget analyst Stan Collender, executive vice president of public relations firm Qorvis MSLGROUP in Washington and a contributor to Forbes magazine.
“It is a particular problem in the Senate, where you have got four Republican candidates running for president, all of whom are vying for the anti-Planned Parenthood vote in the Republican primaries, all of whom are saying they are not voting for any continuing resolution [spending measure] if it includes funding [for Planned Parenthood],” he said.
One of those candidates is Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. Speaking on the One America Network, he said Republicans have majorities in both houses of Congress, and "in my view, we should act like it, and we should stand together and say we are going to fund the entire federal government, but we're not going to fund the ongoing murder and the sale of the body parts of unborn children.”
Planned Parenthood strongly denies that it profits from the sale of donated fetal tissue.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Republicans have “been down this path before" and get blamed no matter what the issue. He pledged that "we are not doing government shutdowns, and we are not threatening to default on the national debt.”
Obama has already appealed to Congress, saying that when lawmakers return, "they should prevent a shutdown, pass a responsible budget and prove that this is a country that looks forward.”
But Collender is skeptical that cooler heads will prevail.
“You have got to remember, in American politics now, compromising on issues like Planned Parenthood is the equivalent of and considered collaborating with the enemy,” he said.
Collender said that on an emotional issue like Planned Parenthood and abortion, it will take every bit of leadership House and Senate leaders can muster to prevent another government shutdown.