The GOP-led House is less willing to go along with provisions that explicitly allow Planned Parenthood to tap into federal funding.
President Barack Obama and the top four congressional leaders met at the White House on Monday as Congress neared an interim spending plan that seemingly everyone on Capitol Hill can endorse except one critical faction: conservative House Republicans.
Senators and aides said Monday lawmakers were still discussing the contours of a deal that would fund the government until Dec. 9 and provide money to combat the spread of the Zika virus. Yet unresolved is how lawmakers deal with the language that appears to exclude Planned Parenthood and its partner in Puerto Rico from accessing $95 million in federal funding, which is a nonstarter for Democrats who say the women's health provider shouldn't be barred from the money.
A late afternoon meeting at the White House did not yield a final deal, one person familiar with the meeting said. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking to reporters after the gathering, appeared optimistic that lawmakers would swiftly resolve the government spending issue, which needs to clear Congress by the end of the month in order to avoid a shutdown.
"We had a good meeting," the Kentucky Republican told reporters after the White House meeting. "Talked about wrapping up the funding issue and I think we're all in a very good place to do that on a bipartisan basis pretty quickly."
Another source familiar with the meeting, however, cautioned that there's still much work to be done. While a number of Republicans stood up to support a short-term spending plan during a conference meeting last Friday, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is still trying to garner a majority of his conference to back the measure. If the Senate passes legislation that would allow Planned Parenthood to receive federal Zika funding, the pitch won't fly in the House.
During the Monday meeting, Ryan "told the leaders he objected to doing an omnibus spending bill later in the year," according to a Ryan aide. The speaker has floated the idea of passing one-off spending bills in smaller packages for more transparency, which he thinks will ultimately help his conference come on board with a short-term patch that could be used to buy more time for smaller spending bills funding agencies through the entirety of fiscal 2017.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) asked Ryan what was the difference between one spending bill or five little bills if the funding level was the same in total. But Democrats, otherwise, did not outright pan his pitch, sources say. Senate Democratic sources say they'd want any minibus strategy to adhered to the same budget levels they agreed to last year, and a promise that it wasn't a trick to back off that funding level in the lame-duck session.
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said as much Monday evening: "I’m open to that. Depends on the bills, and depends on if they’re done according to what we think is the budget agreement. Non-defense, defense, no poison pills."
McConnell would like to work quickly and said the interim spending measure will move in his chamber this week — which would allow the slew of GOP senators vying in tough reelection bids to return home earlier than planned to campaign. Democrats, led by Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, have few objections as long as the Planned Parenthood issue is resolved without any restrictions to the health provider.
"They want special funding to go to Planned Parenthood above and beyond Medicaid funding but the fact is, we’re trying to work our way around that," Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said earlier Monday.
One option being considered to resolve the Zika standoff is is allowing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to decide how the Zika funding in question — which comes in the form of new money for a social services block grant — is administered, South Dakota Sen. John Thune said after leaving a GOP leadership meeting Monday evening led by McConnell.
The majority leader took procedural steps on Monday that would tee up final passage in the Senate of the three-month spending measure by Thursday, as long as the language was finalized this week. Thune said, however, that it appeared "unlikely" that his chamber could pass the stopgap measure that quickly, considering the issues that were still outstanding.
Meanwhile, conservatives in the House, namely members of the House Freedom Caucus, are wholly resistant to any stopgap funding plan that runs into the lame-duck session later this year — unless they also secure partisan riders, such as a provision halting Syrian refugees. Those conservatives have long insisted on a six-month continuing resolution that funds the government into next March, and are trying to extract some concessions from leadership — creating headaches for Ryan.
The GOP-led House will also be less willing to go along with provisions that explicitly allow Planned Parenthood and its Puerto Rican partner, ProFamilias, to tap into the federal funding — setting up another challenge as Congress begins to stare down a Sept. 30 deadline to fund the federal government.