With only a handful of days left before the end of the fiscal year, Capitol Hill lawmakers are in no hurry solve a crisis to prevent the federal government from shutting down for the second time in just two years.
Both the House and the Senate will experience a short workweek thanks to the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah and there is no time set aside to consider a short-term budget fix that would extend the funding deadline beyond October 1 and give members breathing room to craft a more lasting agreement.
The House is out next week and the Senate is set to adjourn for much of that time as well. The resulting time crunch leaves Congress just three working days in the last week of September to come up with a funding solution.
The impasse remains over federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which performs abortions along with offering general women’s health services. Many conservatives and a number of Democrats are outraged after a series of hidden-camera videos released this summer showed some of the organization’s officials discussing in graphic detail how it deals handles fetal tissue and body parts for medical research.
Some members argue they would rather see the government shuttered than pass a spending bill that contains some or all of the roughly $500 million in federal dollars for Planned Parenthood.
Leaders of the forty-something strong House Freedom Caucus have signaled that they might launch a coup against Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) if they believe their concerns are not being heard.
In an attempt to placate its right flank, the Republican-controlled House will take up a bill to freeze federal funding for Planned Parenthood for one year while Congress investigates the organization’s activities.
The chamber will also vote on another measure to augment an existing law that provides legal protections to babies born alive after a failed abortion attempt.
The GOP’s order of priorities seems out of step with the American public, though.
A CNN/ORC poll released Monday found 71 percent of adults think it is more important for Congress to approve spending legislation that keeps the government open, while only 22 percent believe eliminating Planned Parenthood’s should be the top concern. To be fair, the question assumed that people knew the substance of the Planned Parenthood controversy, which was not explained.
Those figures remain the same when broken down by gender, with men prioritizing staving off a shutdown 70 percent to 21 percent, while women do 71 percent to 24 percent. Even among Republicans, avoiding a shutdown took precedence over zeroing out the health organization’s funding, 48 percent to 44 percent.
While the split inside the party may only be a few percentage points, it’s indicative of Republican concerns that a government shutdown will hurt the GOP brand, especially on the 2016 campaign trail.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has vowed there will be no government shutdown and rejected the strategy proposed by House conservatives and others, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), a presidential contender who spearheaded the last shutdown over funding to implement Obamacare.
Senate Democrats, who have spent months asking the GOP to start budget talks, say they are still waiting to hear from McConnell about holding negotiations.
The Kentucky lawmaker must feel pretty confident a temporary agreement can be worked out, given how little time is left on the clock.