WASHINGTON (AP) — Rank-and-file Republican lawmakers are increasingly protesting the tactics of tea party colleagues who demand that legislation to keep the government open also take away federal funding for Planned Parenthood. The leading proponent of bringing the fight over funding the group to a possible government shutdown remained unbowed.
Eleven GOP House freshmen — several facing difficult re-election races next year in Democratic-leaning districts — say they support a short-term funding bill needed to guarantee the government won't shut down next week. But they oppose a shutdown confrontation over Planned Parenthood, which is under intense criticism for undercover videos that raise questions about its practice of supplying fetal tissue for scientific research.
A "Dear Colleague" letter by New York Rep. Elise Stefanik and Pennsylvania Rep. Ryan Costello promises to "avoid repeating the mistakes of the past" — a reference to the GOP-sparked 2013 shutdown over implementation of the new health care law.
"We are writing today to express our strong support for a funding resolution that will avoid another unnecessary and harmful government shutdown," the GOP freshmen wrote.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who is using his rivalry with GOP leaders in Washington to help define his presidential campaign, responded in an editorial essay that simply the threat of a shutdown is sending "Republican leadership running for the hills."
Cruz' tactics and penchant for self-promotion have other Senate Republicans such as Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. — who faces re-election next year in a state that Democrats have carried in three consecutive presidential contests — openly frustrated.
"I'm tired of the people on my side of the aisle who have been pushing this strategy even though they know they don't have the votes," Ayotte said Tuesday. "They can't answer the question, 'What's the end game for success?'"
The Senate is scheduled to vote Thursday afternoon on a measure that would fund the government through Dec. 11 and try to "defund" Planned Parenthood. Its expected failure at the hands of filibustering Democrats would then set the stage for a vote on a more traditional temporary funding bill that would be free of the Planned Parenthood controversy.
Cruz fired back Wednesday with an editorial in Politico in which he urged GOP leaders such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to vote again and again to fund the government on a piecemeal basis and force Democrats and Obama to explain why they are defending Planned Parenthood. Instead, he says, GOP leaders are ready to surrender.
"The core of this capitulation comes from Republican leadership's promise that 'There will be no government shutdown.' On its face, the promise sounds reasonable. Except, in practice, it means that Republicans never stand for anything," Cruz wrote. He noted that the GOP's midterm landslide last year followed the 16-day shutdown of 2013.
The plans of House leaders such as Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who often struggles to control his divided GOP conference, remain unclear.
On Wednesday, No. 2 House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland said a noncontroversial stopgap measure would likely enjoy the support of Democrats.
"We aren't for burning down the House. We're for fixing the House," Hoyer said. "There are a lot of Republicans who are for burning down the House if they don't get their way. We don't think that's a responsible alternative."
This story has been corrected to show that Rep. Ryan Costello is from Pennsylvania and that the letter was sent Wednesday, not Tuesday.