Will Senate version of AHCA defund Planned Parenthood?

Republican leaders hailed the House passage of the American Health Care Act last week not just for its fulfillment of the pledge to repeal ObamaCare, but also for its defunding of Planned Parenthood. Paul Ryan had told Hugh Hewitt and angry conservatives disappointed over the inaction on this pledge in the omnibus spending bill to be patient and wait for the AHCA and Senate reconciliation. “Reconciliation bills do not have to be bipartisan. You can pass them with 51 votes,” he told Hugh, “and so that is why the pro-life movement rightfully says the right way to go after Planned Parenthood and advance the pro-life cause is in reconciliation.”

That assumes that the provision to defund Planned Parenthood actually makes it to reconciliation. According to The Hill’s Jordain Carney, Senate Republicans may not have the votes to pass it, even at the lower threshold of reconciliation:

Cutting off federal funds because of the abortion services provided by the organization is a goal of most congressional Republicans and the Trump administration.

And with majorities in the House and Senate and control of the White House, the goal seems within reach after years of the party being thwarted by Senate Democrats and former President Barack Obama. The problem is that Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) both may oppose a healthcare bill that cuts off funding to Planned Parenthood.

Republicans would then have to keep on board every other member of the GOP conference, with Vice President Pence breaking a 50-50 tie in the Senate.

It’s not quite that simple, however. According to Carney, Collins has threatened to offer an amendment to protect Planned Parenthood’s funding. If she does, that would likely attract all 48 Democrats and Murkowski — and maybe one other Republican. Dean Heller faces a tough re-election campaign in Nevada, where Hillary Clinton won in November, and where Democrats have already heavily invested in his defeat. He defied Democrats once already on Betsy DeVos’ confirmation as Secretary of Education, but he’s been cautious about Planned Parenthood, arguing at a town hall last month that he has “no problem” with funding the organization:

The senator started by saying that Planned Parenthood and community health centers were important to providing women’s care. That statement was greeted by boos from the crowd. Republicans and anti-abortion activists often talk about community health centers as an alternative to Planned Parenthood because they don’t provide abortions. But critics point out that some of the places that have been listed as alternatives aren’t even health centers — lists have included dentist offices and food banks — or aren’t accessible in all the locations Planned Parenthood clinics are.

Later Heller said “I have no problems with federal funding for Planned Parenthood.” But when he was asked explicitly if he’d commit to protecting the organization’s funding at the federal level he responded: “We’ll continue to look at this issue.” The crowd broke into loud boos and chants of “no.”

Yeah, that doesn’t exactly sound like a firm yes on defunding. Don’t forget that Heller also voted to protect Planned Parenthood’s funding when it came up in 2015 on a spending bill. Heller was among eight Republicans to vote with Collins on this point, which also includes current members Tom Cotton, Ben Sasse, and Rand Paul. There was some ambiguity on whether the vote was in protest of defunding Planned Parenthood or some other spending in the bill, but Heller’s comments last month certainly don’t add much clarity.

If Collins gets Heller and Murkowski on an amendment to protect Planned Parenthood’s funding, then it’s game over. Democrats will rush to Collins’ side to toss that wrench into the GOP’s efforts, forcing a showdown between the House and Senate when it comes time for a conference committee to reconcile the two versions. In that case, if push comes to shove, Ryan and the rest of Republican leadership will almost certainly salvage the ObamaCare repeal rather than take a stand on defunding.

We may be waiting a lot longer than reconciliation for this promise to get fulfilled.