Byrd Watching: GOP Eyes Rule on Planned Parenthood

Barb Wire

The most important vote on the bill to defund Planned Parenthood isn’t a senator’s — it’s the parliamentarian’s! Until now, most Americans had probably never heard of Elizabeth MacDonough, who, for all practical purposes, is the Senate’s referee. The first-ever woman to hold the job, parliamentarian MacDonough will have the weight of the House’s budget reconciliation bill on her shoulders when the chamber considers it as early as next week.

As the umpire of elaborate procedures and points of order, MacDonough is often called on to settle bitter disputes over what’s germane and what isn’t. The same will be true this month, as Republicans try to get the first bill defunding Planned Parenthood and pieces of ObamaCare onto the president’s desk. Under the budget reconciliation process, the parliamentarian will be a major figure in deciding whether the bill passes the “Byrd test.” If it doesn’t, conservatives are back to square one on the group’s funding.

Right now, the only thing standing in the way of advancing the measure is a 25-year-old rule that gives Democrats their only real crack at blocking the bill. Since reconciliation speeds up the process, the former Senator Robert Byrd created an accountability mechanism. Under his rule, senators can object to a bill if they think it doesn’t change spending or reduce the deficit (which is the ultimate purpose of reconciliation). The Senate could waive the rule, but it would take 60 votes that the GOP doesn’t have.

Obviously, the President’s party will do anything to protect Planned Parenthood and ObamaCare — including arguing that these provisions are irrelevant to the budget process. That’s where Elizabeth MacDonough comes in. As the parliamentarian, it will be up to her to wade through all of the legalese and decide if they’re right. Democrats have spent the last several weeks insisting that the Planned Parenthood provision isn’t germane. Republicans have fired back that their interpretation is too narrow. “I literally don’t understand their logic,” Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) said in an interview with The Daily Signal. “The Byrd rule allows for a whole lot more repeal of ObamaCare than what is being contemplated.” Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) also chimed in. “At the end of the day,” he pointed out, “the Senate parliamentarian is an employee of the Senate. Virtually every Republican campaigned promising full repeal.”

Trending: Kids Tutored in “Pleasure” Despite STD Epidemic

In the meantime, The Hill is stirring the pot with a new article quoting unnamed “aides” who think leaders may strip out the Planned Parenthood provision to spare Republicans the headache. Of course, no one knows who these aides are or even if they’re on leadership staff. In our Senate meetings, we’ve been assured that Republicans are sticking with the plan to cancel Planned Parenthood’s taxpayer checks.

Even Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) pushed back on the rumors, insisting that the GOP has had “ongoing discussions” about zeroing out Planned Parenthood’s funding for the year. “I’m not aware of any conclusion that’s been reached on that.” If anything, the Senate may be expanding on the House bill to include deeper cuts to ObamaCare. Encourage them to hold their ground on both! Contact your senators and ask them to get taxpayers out of the abortion business — in health care and beyond!


The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

Tony Perkins
Tony Perkins is president of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council. He is a former member of the Louisiana legislature where he served for eight years, and he is recognized as a legislative pioneer for authoring measures like the nation’s first Covenant Marriage law. (Via FRC’s Washington Update. Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.)

Join the conversation!

We have no tolerance for comments containing violence, racism, profanity, vulgarity, doxing, or discourteous behavior. Thank you for partnering with us to maintain fruitful conversation.