WASHINGTON -- House Republican leadership convened a rare conference meeting Wednesday night to craft a united plan to avoid a government shutdown while also appeasing a growing faction of conservatives who refuse to back any spending measure that includes funding for Planned Parenthood.
Republican members who attended the meeting said leadership primarily listened to lawmakers' concerns. But one idea emerged as a possibility that could assuage conservatives who want the party to take a stand on defunding Planned Parenthood in the upcoming vote to fund the government beyond Sept. 30.
The proposal, which has yet to be explicitly endorsed by leadership, involves approving a short-term continuing resolution to fund the government. Republicans would then target Planned Parenthood’s funding using a procedural tool known as budget reconciliation, which the Senate would not be able to filibuster.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) said reconciliation appeared to be the best way to get a bill defunding Planned Parenthood to the president’s desk and prevent a shutdown.
"I'd like to see us keep the government open, frankly. We just have to figure out how to get there," he said.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) echoed the idea that budget reconciliation could successfully strip the family planning provider of the roughly $500 million it receives annually, and said it would separate the effort from the looming shutdown.
Cole reasoned that the continuing resolution would have “no impact” on funding for Planned Parenthood, because its finances are set at least through December.
Planned Parenthood is accused of selling fetal tissue from abortions, an allegation that has yet to be proved. It is legal for the organization to donate the fetal tissue.
Members appeared to be heading toward a solution, Cole said, and were urged to think carefully about the options they have to target Planned Parenthood.
"I also think leadership succeeded in convincing people 'Hey, take some time, make the case, work through regular order,’” Cole said.
Cole added that another suggestion offered during the meeting was to craft a bill that targets the specific practices Republicans oppose, rather than just attacking funding for a single group. Such a bill would prevent funds from going to, for instance, organizations that donate or sell fetal tissue.
The path forward still remained elusive, however, with Republicans in the meeting saying no final decisions had been made.
And at least a few members weren't pleased, said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas), a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus. Huelskamp was one of roughly 40 GOP members who wrote a letter to leadership vowing to vote against any spending bill that included funds for Planned Parenthood.
"There's plenty of us still in there saying we can't vote for anything that funds this type of vile behavior and activity," Huelskamp said after the meeting.
Conservatives like Huelskamp are keeping a close eye on the final decision Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) makes on how to fund the government and defund Planned Parenthood. If Boehner fails to stick up for them, Huelskamp hinted, a revolt to oust him may be in the works.
"Look, if leadership, if they go out and fund Planned Parenthood, I think that could risk at least one guy's job as speaker and could risk next year's elections for us," Huelskamp said.
With time running out, Huelskamp said some members think leadership is "waiting out the clock so they can come in there a few days before and say we are out of time," which would effectively kill the effort to tether Planned Parenthood to the spending debate.
"I've never been on a team -- I've been on some really poor teams in football -- where you walk in and say, 'We're going to lose today, just get used to it.'" Huelskamp said. "Then why are you here? If you're not ready to win then get off the team. If you're don't want to win and can't find a way to do that, Mr. Speaker, get off the team."
Republicans have yet to put forward a proposal for a continuing resolution to fund the government, which must pass both chambers by the end of the month to avoid a shutdown.
While the reconciliation tactic would ensure that legislation defunding Planned Parenthood reaches the White House, the president is sure to block it. The administration already issued a veto threat Thursday on a standalone bill targeting Planned Parenthood, which the House is set to vote on this week.