Why GOP Senators Will Probably Have To Give Up On Defunding Planned Parenthood

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The U.S. Senate plans to hold a controversial vote to consider repealing Obamacare on Tuesday. However, in the lead-up to the vote, there has been little clarity about the contents of the bill that will be debated and possibly voted upon. This lack of clarity has left many wondering about the implications of Tuesday's vote, including whether or not Planned Parenthood could be defunded, considering Republicans' historically strong desire to defund the organization through an Obamacare repeal process.

As it turns out, procedural hurdles may get in the way of Republicans' aim of defunding the organization. Preliminary findings from Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate Parliamentarian who is responsible for interpreting parliamentary procedure and the rules of the Senate, indicated that provisions to defund Planned Parenthood might not comply with the Senate's budget reconciliation rules.

To fully understand how the parliamentarian's findings could affect whether or not Planned Parenthood could be defunded with the health care vote, it is helpful to take a closer look at the legislative process for the upcoming vote. According to The New York Times, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell first plans to hold a procedural vote to take up and debate the same heath care bill that passed the House of Representatives last month, the American Health Care Act (AHCA).

However, if Senators do indeed vote to debate the AHCA, then things become much murkier. Senators could then vote on numerous amendments to the AHCA, including ones that would replace the entire bill. Some examples of replacement amendments consist of ones to repeal Obamacare without replacing it and an option to replace the House's replacement bill with the Senate's own version, the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA). According to the paper, it is still unclear how votes on these types of substitute amendments will be prioritized.

Both the House's AHCA and the Senate's BCRA contain provisions to defund Planned Parenthood. However, as the New York Times reported, the budget reconciliation process could mean that provisions to defund the organization have to be removed from the bill.

In other words, the expedited budget reconciliation process being used for consideration of the health care bill in the Senate allows it to pass with a simple majority, not a filibuster-proof 60 votes, as is required under traditional rules. However, there are certain limitations that come along with this expedited process, including rules that, according to the Times, mandate that essentially any parts of legislation considered "extraneous" to the budget cannot be passed through the budget reconciliation process.

As previously noted, the Senate parliamentarian has already made preliminary findings that indicate that provisions to defund Planned Parenthood likely violate budget reconciliation process rules, since they appear to to be extraneous and not directly related to the budget. While these are still preliminary findings, they are likely indicative of how the parliamentarian will rule on Planned Parenthood defunding provisions if they are up for vote on the Senate floor.

While the nature of the Senate health care vote and the contents of the related bill are still very much uncertain, it does appear that it would be quite difficult to defund Planned Parenthood with this health care vote. Perhaps these findings give at least a small amount of comfort to the organization in what has been an otherwise very trying year of facing persistent defunding threats. Though, Planned Parenthood will probably not rest easy until the Republican quest to repeal Obamacare has ended.