Sept. 07– WASHINGTON — Returning after a lengthy summer break, lawmakers are set to wage partisan battles this month over Planned Parenthood and the proposed nuclear deal with Iran, with a break to host the Pope.
Busy and contentious.
With just three weeks until the new fiscal year begins, Congress has not approved spending bills for the military, homeland security and every other department that requires annual appropriations.
Lawmakers won’t get those bills done before the Sept. 30 deadline, meaning some kind of temporary funding measure will be necessary.
And that could lead to a showdown over funding for Planned Parenthood — and possibly a government shutdown.
Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R- Tulsa, said he could not vote for any legislation that provides grant money to the organization or allows it to receive reimbursements from Medicaid.
He said many Republicans feel the same way and that there have been strategy discussions in the past few weeks about how to ensure Planned Parenthood is denied all federal funding.
Bridenstine worked closely two years ago with Sens. Ted Cruz, R- Texas, and Mike Lee, R- Utah, on a Republican strategy to block government funding for the Affordable Care Act. That led to a 16-day shutdown that ended with the health care law still fully funded.
In an interview, Bridenstine said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, has used Senate rules to prevent straightforward votes on spending conflicts.
“The Democrats have broken the process in order to force their ideology onto the American people,” he said.
“I think Republicans need to come together in unity and say Harry Reid wants to shut down the government in order to force our constituents to pay for other people’s abortions.”
While not specifically advocating a government shutdown, Inhofe came out strongly last week against more funding for Planned Parenthood. He said the procedural vote to defund the group, which failed in the Senate in early August, wasn’t enough.
He said, “Pro-life members should hold their ground and keep this fight alive in Washington.”
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, R- Ky., has said there would not be a government shutdown this year, and many Republicans agree.
Rep. Tom Cole, R- Moore, said, “I think if you get to the point of shutting down the government, that’s counterproductive. That’s actually a weapon that favors the other side of the debate, not our side.”
Cole has already taken a concrete step to eliminate grant funding for all family planning organizations. He is the head of the subcommittee that writes the Health and Human Services Department spending bill, and the panel provided no money for family planning grants.
That doesn’t prevent the group from receiving Medicaid reimbursements for services other than abortions, such as cancer screenings.
Freshman Rep. Steve Russell, R- Oklahoma City, said four House committees are planning to investigate the group in the wake of secretly recorded videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood employees talking about abortion procedures and tissue sales that might violate federal law.
The group has vehemently denied allegations of wrongdoing and has charged that the videos were edited so viewers would make misleading and inaccurate conclusions. Some Democrats have called on the House to investigate the anti-abortion activist who recorded the videos.
“The passions on this issue are very, very high among pro-life conservatives and pro-life Democrats,” Russell said.
He stopped short of saying that Congress should insist on defunding the group to keep the government operating. He said the investigations should be allowed to unfold.
“Do we have a legal way to cut them out and shut them down?” Russell asked.
At the White House last week, press secretary Josh Earnest said the administration was concerned Republicans had not worked with Democrats to resolve “the apparent budget impasse.”
“And we’ve been quite disappointed in that, because Republicans have the majority in the Congress, and so it is incumbent upon them to show some leadership here for a change,” Earnest said.
He said he wasn’t aware of any steps taken by the administration to prepare for a shutdown.
Even with a budget crisis looming, Congress must first confront the nuclear agreement proposed with Iran by the United States, China, Russia, France,Great Britain and Germany. The deadline for action comes a little more than a week after Congress returns.
Inhofe said McConnell had told all senators to cancel hearings and clear their scheduled for the latter part of this week so they could focus on the debate.
The Republican controlled House and Senate are expected to approve a resolution disapproving of the deal, which the Obama administration contends will prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons for at least 15 years.
All seven members of Oklahoma’s all-Republican congressional delegation are strongly opposed to the agreement.
However, Republicans likely won’t have enough Democratic support to override a presidential veto so the agreement would go into effect, even with the large majority of lawmakers disapproving.
Russell said he has been working with other Republicans on a plan to ensure economic sanctions are still used against Iran over the administration’s objections.
The first step, he said, was signaled last week when Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt urged states to adopt sanctions against Iran or enforce ones already in place. Russell said Republicans would make an announcement next week about their own plans regarding sanctions.
Bridenstine said Republicans “are focused on disapproving the deal with the largest majority we can possibly muster.” Republicans have not given up on persuading Democrats to vote against the deal, even ones who have already announced their support, he said.
Earnest, the White House spokesman, said “there are dozens, if not hundreds, of Republicans that announced their opposition to the deal before the deal was even announced.
“And that is an indication that Republicans weren’t willing to consider the merits of the agreement. They were just eager to express their partisan opposition to the Democratic President of the United States. That’s particularly disappointing when we’re talking about an issue as serious as this one.”
Pope Francis going to Capitol Hill
The attention on the nuclear deal and the budget will delay consideration of other issues, including the six-year highway bill that Inhofe has been pushing.
Inhofe said in an interview he is still optimistic a final version of the bill — which could boost the amount of money for roads and bridges in every state — could clear Congress by mid- to late-October.
Cole, a part of the House leadership team, said there was no certain timetable since its funding would likely be dependent on high-level negotiations between the House and administration.
Cole said he was optimistic that the House would vote in September on legislation to allow crude oil exports from the United States.
He was less certain about consideration of the bill that sets Defense Department policy priorities for next year. House and Senate negotiators are working on a final version.
The House version included a provision by Russell to award the Purple Heart to the six active duty military personnel who were killed 20 years ago in the Oklahoma City bombing. That provision is strongly opposed by the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
The defense bill also included a provision by Oklahoma Reps. Frank Lucas, of Cheyenne, and Markwayne Mullin, of Westville, to suspend for at least five years the listing of the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species.
On Sept. 24, lawmakers will pause from their work for what Cole called “a very important moment:” The first address by a Pope to a joint session ofCongress.
Cole said the Capitol Hill visit by Pope Francis would be “a privilege, not a distraction.” Bridenstine said he was looking forward to hear the Pope and that he expects an uplifting message.
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