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Lawmakers Plan Short-Term CR Amid Stalled Debate on Omnibus Spending Bill

Lawmakers Plan Short-Term CR Amid Stalled Debate on Omnibus Spending Bill

December 9, 2015 — House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Tuesday said Congress likely will pass a short-term continuing resolution that will keep the government operating while lawmakers finalize an omnibus spending measure, CQ News reports (Hallerman/McCrimmon, CQ News, 12/8).

According to Politico, Congress likely will pass the short-term bill on Friday (Sherman et al., Politico, 12/8). White House press secretary Josh Earnest said President Obama would sign a short-term continuing resolution (CQ News, 12/8). Meanwhile, conservative leaders said they would review the state of negotiations on Tuesday to determine their next steps (Politico, 12/8).

Background

Earlier this year, Congress passed and President Obama signed a stopgap spending bill to keep the government funded through Dec. 11. The bill includes funding for Planned Parenthood. When the bill was debated, some conservatives said they would not support any government spending measure that includes funding for the organization (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/3).

Meanwhile, the Senate on Dec. 4 voted 52-47 to pass a budget reconciliation bill (HR 3762) that would defund Planned Parenthood and repeal several of the Affordable Care Act's (PL 111-148) provisions. Through budget reconciliation, certain legislation can advance in the Senate with a simple majority vote.

The part of the reconciliation measure that targets Planned Parenthood would end federal funding for the organization for one year. According to the Congressional Budget Office, that amounts to about $390 million in Medicaid funding. Meanwhile, the measure would add $235 million in funding for community health centers.

The House, which approved a different version of the bill in October, is expected to pass the Senate version next week. Obama has pledged to veto the bill if it passes through Congress (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/8).

Debate Over Abortion-Related Provisions

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Ryan "made it clear" that the omnibus measure would not include language defunding Planned Parenthood. However, according to CQ News, lawmakers still are debating several riders to the omnibus bill, including abortion-related provisions (CQ News, 12/8).

One provision, included in the House's Labor-HHS-Education budget plan (HR 3020), would allow employers to refuse to provide coverage for health care services they say violates their religious beliefs (Lesniewski, Roll Call, 12/8). A related provision would create a new path for a broad list of health care entities, including hospitals, insurance plans and health care providers to file a legal challenge against state or local government if they are penalized for refusing to provide access to abortion care.

According to Roll Call, previous appropriations measures have included language that bars the government from discriminating against health care entities that refuse to provide abortion care or provide referrals to abortion care. However, the proposed language would establish a new way for health care entities to file a legal challenge in court.

Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) indicated that liberal lawmakers would oppose the provision if conservative lawmakers try to include it, saying, "all hell will break loose."

Separately, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said the provision was one of several that are stalling the debate over the omnibus bill. She listed it as one of "40 or 42 poison pill riders ... that should have never even been on the appropriations" (Hallerman, Roll Call, 12/8).

House Freedom Caucus Pushes Back

In related news, the conservative House Freedom Caucus is calling on Ryan to pass a six-week continuing resolution rather than a short-term one to avoid negotiating the omnibus measure on a tight schedule. According to CQ News, the caucus is angling for several provisions in the omnibus bill, including one related to Planned Parenthood funding (CQ News, 12/8).

Earlier this month, the caucus told conservative leaders that it would support an alternative provision in the final spending proposal that permits states to exclude Planned Parenthood from their Medicaid programs. Previously, the caucus said it would vote against any spending measure that did not end federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

The alternative measure was outlined by the Pro-Life Caucus in a letter to conservative leaders. It would block federal funding for Medicaid unless states were permitted to exclude abortion providers from their state Medicaid programs without being penalized. Several states that have tried to exclude Planned Parenthood from their Medicaid programs have been blocked from doing so by a federal law that allows Medicaid beneficiaries their choice of any qualified medical provider.

The Pro-Life Caucus also urged conservative leaders to consider two other antiabortion-rights provisions in the letter, including one that would end funding for the United Nations Population Fund and curb funding for international family planning efforts. The other provision would provide additional legal protections for organizations that do not want to cover abortion care and physicians who do not want to provide such services.

The letter, which was signed by more than 100 lawmakers, does not state that signatories will vote against a spending bill if it does not include any of the proposed alternative provisions (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/3).