As The Washington Post’s Paul Kane and Kelsey Snell report, there’s no clear plan in Congress to avoid a full government shutdown at the end of month.
On the flip side, there are lots of paths to get to a shutdown scenario. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are hoping to push their ideological goals — including cutting federal funding for Planned Parenthood, stopping the Iran nuclear deal and trimming military spending — all via the budget debate. That brinkmanship threatens Congress’s ability to pass even a temporary budget by the Sept. 30 deadline, and experts say there’s a up to a 70 percent chance that the government could shut down for at least a few days come Oct. 1.
That said, congressional leaders are trying to come up with a plan to avoid a shutdown. Here are five of the scenarios they’re probably considering, ranked from least likely to most likely.
For this exercise, we are going to focus on the Planned Parenthood debate (explained below), which many experts consider perhaps the No. 1 sticking point in avoiding a shutdown.)
At issue is whether the federal government should eliminate $500 million in funding for Planned Parenthood after an anti-abortion-rights group released undercover videos thatshow organizers of the health-care clinic talking casually about using fetal tissue for medical research.
The videos sparked outrage among anti-abortion-rights advocates and spurred a renewed fight in Congress over the long-standing issue.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who, not coincidentally is running for president, is leading the way. “Funding the federal government does not require funding Planned Parenthood,” he wrote in an Aug. 20 USA Today op-ed. “But basic decency and our commitment to the right to life does require that we stop taxpayer funding of abortions and any trade in baby parts.”
Likelihood of this happening: Not very. The social conservative vote is of utmost importance to 2016 Republican candidates, including Cruz, who spent the August break drumming up momentum for the cause. Backing off a high-profile abortion fight would be a tough political choice. Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) has called this scenario “surrender.”
The strategic thinking here would be that it’s better to keep the government open than to fight for money that probably wouldn’t change how Planned Parenthood performs abortions anyway. (Using federal money to pay for abortions has been banned in most cases since 1976.)
Likelihood: Not very. Senate Democrats have made it clear that they have enough votes to block a spending bill that strips Planned Parenthood funding from even coming to a vote in the Senate. That would send the drama back to the House.
“We believe that women are entitled to health care and that [defunding Planned Parenthood] is a way to take away health care for millions of women around America today,” Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) told CNN’s Manu Raju. “We’re not going to let that happen.”
This is one of the more attractive options for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), report Kane and Snell.
Republicans, who control Congress, could hold investigations and committee hearings like this one delving into Planned Parenthood’s finances, abortion practices and whether officials at the organization did anything illegal in giving fetal tissue to research. (Officials have apologized for their cavalier tone in the videos but maintain they did nothing wrong: Selling fetal tissue for profit is illegal in the United States, but donating it is not.)
Likelihood: Possible, especially if Boehner can persuade his fellow Republicans to pursue legislation like the bill introduced by Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) that would block funding to Planned Parenthood unless it stops performing abortions. But that measure is unlikely to get through the Senate, where Democrats can block it.
In today’s polarized Washington, this might seem like the most laughable of the options. But it’s one that Boehner has used before, such as during the 2013 government shutdown when he worked with Senate Democrats and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to have all 198 Democrats support a bill to eventually reopen the government. Only 87 Republicans voted for that measure.
Likelihood: It’s possible, but it depends on what Democrats want in exchange for their help. Pelosi told reporters Wednesday that she wants “good faith” negotiations that would help lift automatic budget cuts instituted in 2011, known as sequestration. Both sides want to end sequestration, but that debate will open up a whole other can of worms about whether to increase domestic and military spending (President Obama’s preferred choice) or increase military spending (Republicans’ favorite option).
Plus, doing this before a shutdown would be tough for Boehner to explain to his rank-and-file. They accepted it last time because, after two-plus weeks of a shutdown, the GOP basically conceded its defeat. At least Boehner had given it a shot, they reasoned.
The government probably would reopen after anti-abortion-rights advocates in Congress decide they’ve made their point and will now vote for a budget that includes Planned Parenthood funding. That’s a theory from budget guru Stan Collender, writing on Forbes.com about the five questions that will determine whether the government shuts down.
Likelihood: Unclear. We’ve already established that budget experts say it’s a “well over 50 percent” chance that the government will shut down for a few days, which is why this is the most likely scenario on our list.