Why reconciliation can and should be used to defund Planned Parenthood

 David Christensen is Vice President of Government Affairs at Family Research Council. This article appeared in The Hill on October 27, 2015.

Efforts to defund Planned Parenthood Federation of American (PPFA) on the end of the fiscal year 2015 Continuing Resolution have been blocked in the Senate due to the 60-vote cloture threshold, but we believe an effort to defund a significant portion of PPFA’s government revenue is possible on the budget reconciliation bill which requires only 51 votes. We believe such a provision is consistent with the Byrd Rule, which restricts “extraneous” provisions in reconciliation bills.

PPFA receives millions in federal subsidies in discretionary and mandatory programs. It is entirely appropriate and possible for the GOP controlled House and Senate to tackle funding for the nation’s largest abortion provider on the reconciliation bill.

Some have argued that reconciliation “can’t be used to defund PPFA,” but we disagree. Reconciliation provisions of course are subject to the Byrd Rule and there is no guarantee that the Senate Parliamentarian will agree. However, we believe it is wrong to argue that this cannot be done. That is why FRC is scoring in favor of the House reconciliation bill. We think some arguments against defunding PPFA are red herrings.

It is true that defunding PPFA by restricting federal funds for it in discretionary programs, such as the Title X family planning program, would be subject to a Byrd Rule point of order. However, that does not mean a provision restricting funding for PPFA in mandatory programs cannot pass the Byrd Rule. Indeed, PPFA is estimated to receive over $400 million in Medicaid and other mandatory programs. That pot of money, not discretionary funds, is what the House bill would tackle.

Some argue that Congress can’t defund PPFA because “past efforts to defund abortion in reconciliation were subject to a Byrd rule point of order.” While it is true that past efforts to defund abortion were ruled to have a negligible budget impact and were subject to a point of order, that fact is irrelevant. The House reconciliation package does not restrict federal dollars for abortion procedures, which CBO has scored as having little budgetary impact. No one is attempting to attach the House-passed No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act to this reconciliation package.

Rather, the House reconciliation bill excludes funding for certain entities in Medicaid. Specifically, the House reconciliation bill would restrict for one year funding under several mandatory programs to entities that receive over $350 million in federal funds, and which provide abortion services. This provision would have the effect of removing reimbursements for PPFA as well as possibly other entities. However, far from a negligible budget effect, CBO estimated that this provision would save the federal government $235 million.

Others argue that this provision would not pass the Byrd test because the provision’s budget effects are “merely incidental” to the non-budgetary policy. We think it does pass the Byrd test because the budget effect of this provision is inextricably linked to the policy change. The provision restricts reimbursements in several mandatory programs to prohibited entities. The provision is budgetary and restricts federal reimbursements from a category of providers.

Again, CBO estimates this will save the government $235 million over one year. Eliminating reimbursements to certain entities in Medicaid and mandatory programs is a direct way to save money. This provision would accomplish that goal.

Certainly these issues can be debated with the Parliamentarian, but the mere fact that there will be a debate doesn’t mean we know that it will fail on a Byrd Rule point of order.

To forego such an approach would diminish much of the effort in which Members of the House and Senate have engaged thus far to defund PPFA. The House reconciliation instructions with the provision removing funding for PPFA were passed in Committee by Members in various caucuses, including the Republican Study Committee, the Freedom Caucus, and the Values Action Team.

On the Senate side, we believe there are 51 votes to pass the reconciliation package that repeals key portions of Obamacare and defunds PPFA. It is possible that three Republican Senators might vote against the entire reconciliation bill because it removes funding for PPFA. What is clear is that there are 51 other Republicans who can and should vote for the bill even though it defunds PPFA.

The fact that conservative senators may wish the House bill did more by, for instance, repealing the premium subsidies on Obamacare should not be used by those senators as an excuse to vote no. Rather, it should embolden conservative senators to offer amendments during the reconciliation debate to improve the bill’s Obamacare repeal provisions. To argue the bill lacks the votes is to engage in self-fulfilling prophecy. The votes are there to repeal much of Obamacare, and they are there to remove a significant amount of taxpayer funds for the nation’s largest abortion provider.

Family Research Council encourages a vote in favor of the reconciliation act and intends to score accordingly.