Essential Politics: Shutdown drama cranking up


Welcome to Essential Politics, a new newsletter from the Los Angeles Times. I’m Christina Bellantoni, assistant managing editor for politics and your host today.

A deadline days away. Intraparty drama. Activists in the streets waving signs. Democrats gleefully waiting for Republicans to shut down the government again.

These are not the elements of a Hollywood melodrama about Washington — they are playing out in real time as the month and federal government’s fiscal year near an end.

The short version is that Congress is rapidly approaching the Sept. 30 deadline to keep the government funded. A vocal contingent of Republicans — and several presidential hopefuls — are using this summer’s series of undercover videos about Planned Parenthood to call for barring any federal funding for the organization. The threat, both spoken and implied: forcing a government shutdown over the issue, just two years after a shutdown over money for implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Republicans in charge of the House and Senate have said repeatedly they want to avoid another bruising shutdown, acknowledging that voters last fall gave them a two-year lease with an option for renewal. But agitating House lawmakers who aren’t happy with Speaker John Boehner, and candidates including Sen. Ted Cruz who are attempting to get attention on the campaign trail, have different concerns.

That’s why last week the House voted to defund Planned Parenthood in what was a nearly straight party line roll call. California Democrats were unanimously opposed to the measure, while the state’s Republicans unanimously supported it. (See the list of the GOP defectors from other states here.) The House also backed a ban on abortions after 20 weeks. The Senate will hold a procedural vote on the 20-week ban Tuesday, and Cruz and others are pushing for the Planned Parenthood issue to be front and center as leaders work out particulars for a continuing resolution to fund the government beyond next week. Both issues have riled abortion-rights activists.

California Democratic Rep. Judy Chu was the featured speaker at a rally for Planned Parenthood at Pasadena City Hall over the weekend. Video of the raucous crowd made the Los Angeles Snapchat story, and marchers were greeted with honks of support. The movement is organized and will continue to use events like this to get attention outside the Beltway.

Lisa Mascaro from our Washington bureau reports that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi over the next week "will exert her rising clout as she tries to use a battle over the federal budget to win concessions from the GOP majority." She notes that Boehner — under pressure from within his own party to keep his speakership — will need Pelosi to rally some votes to avoid a shutdown.

From the story:

Interviewed in her bright yellow office in the Capitol, Pelosi credits the Democratic caucus’ unity for their ability to win battles from the minority side.

“Our leverage springs from (Obama’s) veto, but his leverage springs from our sustaining his veto," she said, “and that has taken some work."

Mascaro also writes that federal law already bans Planned Parenthood from using any taxpayer money for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or protecting the mother’s life. Read the whole story for details on other snags in the government funding measure.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Monday accused Republicans of “putting off" budget negotiations. President Obama over the weekend doubled down on his opposition to stripping Planned Parenthood of funding. “[W]hat makes no sense at all, is Congress threatening to shut down the entire federal government if they can’t shut down women’s access to Planned Parenthood. That’s not a good idea," Obama said at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation gala Saturday.

Expect more rhetoric as the Senate is poised to take a test vote Tuesday. But some of this will fade into the background for a few days with a brief recess for Yom Kippur and Pope Francis coming to town.


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-- Could Prop 30’s higher income taxes be here to stay? Chris Megerian has details on a push to do just that.

-- George Skelton argues Carly Fiorina would be better off helping the California GOP as a Senate candidate.

-- Earthquake politics are fracturing local and state politicians.

-- No, Donald Trump will not take a salary if elected. And yes, he has a new book coming out next month.

-- Freshman class president and California Rep. Ted Lieu tweets about his time at the Emmys.


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