A Senate vote to cut funding for Planned Parenthood and gut Obamacare brought something in exceedingly rare supply — grass-roots praise for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The Kentucky Republican has had a tepid relationship, at best, with the conservative base of the party. But on Friday, conservatives were singing his praises. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins hailed the Senate action in a statement.
“President Obama will now bear the moral responsibility for sending our tax dollars to a group that has engaged in the selling of baby body parts,” he stated. “Even if the president vetoes the bill, we’ve still succeeded, because a Senate precedent has now been set for moving a similar measure forward when America finally has a president who understands the value of every person, born and unborn.”
Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, concurred, singling out McConnell.
“This is historic, and I think it’s a fantastic marker to set out there,” he told LifeZette. “Mitch McConnell deserved a lot of credit.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., in a speech Thursday signaled determination not to let the issue drop.
“We think this problem is so urgent that, next year, we are going to unveil a plan to replace every word of Obamacare,” Ryan said.
The House of Representatives has voted more than 50 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act. But Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., used his power when he was majority leader to block votes in the upper chamber. After Republicans won control of the Senate last year, McConnell initially favored a more cautious approach that would have left most of the law intact.
A trio of Senate Republicans, Utah’s Mike Lee, Florida’s Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz of Texas, wrote a letter in October threatening to withhold support for the measure.
McConnell pursued a similar strategy on Planned Parenthood, which has been under fire for months following the release of videos depicting executives with the abortion provider discussing financial transactions involving fetal tissue. As recently as September, the Senate leader rejected calls to attach a Planned Parenthood cutoff to the budget bill, calling it an “exercise in futility” that could lead to a partial government shutdown.
The bill that passed by the Senate on Thursday avoided the 60-vote requirement to break a filibuster through a parliamentary maneuver known as reconciliation. With only 51 votes needed, McConnell secured a 52-47 vote that included defections from just two Republicans, Maine’s Susan Collins and Mark Kirk of Illinois.
In addition to cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood for one year, the bill includes repeal of key provisions of Obamacare, including taxes on medical devices and high-benefits insurance plans, insurance exchanges and subsidies, and federal funding that 30 states have accepted to expand Medicaid.
Schlapp said he senses that Senate leadership “not only listened to how important this was, I think their heart was in it.”
Some conservatives, while pleased with the outcome, expressed reluctance to view it as a wholesale change of direction by McConnell.
“Let’s keep in mind here that without pressure by Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Sen. Rubio, it wouldn’t be nearly as comprehensive as it was,” said Jason Pye, a spokesman for FreedomWorks. “Leadership actually conceded to these three senators. This wasn’t leadership acting on principle.”
Even if the House accepts the Senate’s language, as most expect, it faces a guaranteed veto by the president. So is it any less symbolic than the dozens of Obamacare votes the House has cast since Republicans took charge in 2011?
Pye said it is significant because it frames the issue for the 2016 presidential election.
“This sets up the stage for the right president and the right candidate to come down in 2017 to repeal this law,” he said.
Pye rejected the notion that some Republicans might have second thoughts about voting for repeal if there is a Republican president who actually would sign it. He said most Republicans in Congress campaigned against it.
“If they were to go back in 2017 and go back on their word, they would have hell to pay with their constituents,” Pye said.
As to whether the Obamacare-Planned Parenthood vote signals a lasting change by McConnell and company, Pye pointed to another vote the Senate took Thursday to send a $305 billion highway bill to the president.
“The bill is packed with wasteful spending,” he said. “That bill shows they are not always willing to listen to the grass roots.”