Why Republicans Can't Defund Planned Parenthood In The Healthcare Bill

Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images.
We still don't know what Senate Republicans plan to do with healthcare reform, but one thing has been clear all along: Defunding Planned Parenthood has been a priority for the GOP, whether the party decides to vote on an Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill or repeal-only legislation.
But the U.S. Senate’s Office of the Parliamentarian, which acts as the official advisor of the upper chamber, ruled on Friday that the anti-abortion provisions in the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) violate a guideline called the "Byrd Rule," adding a new obstacle that could prevent the Senate healthcare bill from passing. (We don't know yet what the repeal-only bill looks like, but it could contain a similar plan to defund Planned Parenthood.)
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As of now, Republicans are trying to pass their healthcare reform through a budget process called reconciliation, which allows them to pass bills with a plain 51-vote majority instead of the traditional 60-vote threshold. But the Senate Parliamentarian's guidelines say that if reconciliation is used for the healthcare bill, there can't be "provisions that are ‘merely incidental’ to the budget." This basically means all included provisions must have an impact on the budget and not be driven primarily by ideology or the desire to make a policy change.
Defunding Planned Parenthood for a year and preventing tax credits from being used to buy health insurance plans that cover abortion services are two "merely incidental" provisions, according to the Parliamentarian. Therefore, Republicans would need 60 votes to pass healthcare reform.
The issue is that the party controls only 52 seats in the Senate and all Democrats are opposed to any effort to repeal Obamacare. And if the GOP foregoes the anti-abortion provisions, it would likely anger many conservatives who oppose Planned Parenthood and would like to see it defunded (even though the organization can't use federal funds to provide abortions because of the Hyde Amendment, and the Medicaid reimbursements it receives cover health services such as birth control and cancer screenings.)
It's not the first time the Byrd rule has been considered in relation to defunding Planned Parenthood. In 2015, Congress tried to pass a reconciliation bill that defunded the organization and repealed the ACA. Experts said the rule could have been used to prevent the bill from reaching President Obama's desk.
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Dana Singiser, Planned Parenthood's vice president for public policy and government affairs, said the effort to defund the organization is "clearly political."
"No amount of legislative sleight of hand will change the fact that the primary motivation here is to pursue a social agenda by targeting Planned Parenthood because we provide the full range of reproductive health care, including abortion," she said in a statement provided to Refinery29.
She added, "The bottom line is that it is absurd for anyone to assert that the purpose of this provision is budgetary — when it is plainly clear that this dangerous policy is rooted in a political agenda. This does not change the fact that Trumpcare is the worst bill for women’s health in a generation and should fail."
But Joe Brenckle, a spokesman for the Senate Budget Committee Republicans, told CNN that the Parliamentarian's ruling was not set in stone.
"The parliamentarian has provided guidance on an earlier draft of the bill, which will help inform action on the legislation going forward," he said.
Republicans are currently trying to figure out how to get their healthcare reform off the ground. If successful, they'll have to decide whether to include the anti-abortion provisions and put the whole bill at risk of not passing if it can't reach 60 votes.
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