Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has insisted over and over again that his party is not going to shut the government down over social issues. But Democrats maintain that funding for Planned Parenthood and other provisions targeting abortion are the prime sticking point — and their message appears to be taking hold, even among some key GOP lawmakers.
A growing number of pro-life Republicans and conservative activists are publicly pressuring Boehner to drop the issue. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), known as one of the toughest social conservatives in Congress, told MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan on April 6 that they were unrealistic demands.
“My recommendation to my friends in the House is, you know, it’s highly unlikely many riders are going to get passed with a Democrat president and Democrat Senate, so why don’t you take the spending and let’s get on to the budget,” he said.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) another pro-life conservative echoed his call on MSNBC Thursday, saying the GOP should “move on.”
“I’d like to defund Planned Parenthood, but I understand that Republicans don’t have complete control of the elected government,” Toomey said. “I think what we should do is cut spending as much as we can, get the policy changes that we can, but move on, because there are other, bigger battles that we are fighting.”
A number of influential Tea Party activists have long argued that social issues should take a backseat to the economy during the recovery and some are chiming in to that effect as well.
“Tea Party Patriots have not taken a position on those, and we’re looking for fiscal responsibility,” Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots told Chris Matthews on MSNBC this week. “The riders are something the Republicans are pushing for their base.”
Andrew Ian Dodge, the former Tea Party Patriots coordinator for Maine and a Republican candidate for Senate, slammed the House GOP for pushing the issue.
“I think the social conservatives feel their power ebbing because of the fiscal conservative obsessed Tea Party,” Dodge, who signed onto a letter last year calling on the GOP majority to stick to the economy. “They have made several attempts to take it over and been rebuffed.”
Mass defections on the issue have yet to be seen in the House, which would create more pressure for Boehner. But one GOP aide suggested to the Huffington Post that there may be a split within the caucus between the Tea Party and older social conservatives.
“It’s mostly a few older members who have seen an opportunity,” the GOP aide said. “If you were to ask the freshmen individually, only a few would say this is all about the riders.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.