WASHINGTON--With a government shutdown looming, Democratic Senate leaders said Thursday a "Tea Party extreme social agenda" on abortion and the environment is the real issue in tense budget negotiations with the White House--not getting to an agreement on spending cuts.
The Democratic Senate leadership team--Sen. Harry Reid, (D-Nv.), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) at a press conference in the Capitol said Republican riders on the budget legislation--including defunding Planned Parenthood and curbing the authority of the EPA--were over long contentious policy matters that could be debated another time--not when Congress was confronted with a Friday midnight deadline to get a budget deal done.
"This is an extreme agenda," Reid said. "...This is not a women's health bill, or a bill about the environment." With a deadline looming, "we don't have the time" Reid said, to deal with a "Tea Party extreme social agenda."
Durbin said the arguments were "about bumper stickers"--hot button social issues debated constantly. " Save this argument for another day," he said.
Said Schumer, "there will be a chance to vote on these issues another time."
From the Senate floor Reid said in a speech, "If this government shuts down -- and it looks like it's headed in that direction -- it's going to be based on my friends in the House of Representatives, the leadership over there, focusing on ideological matters that have nothing to do with funding this government."
At issue regarding Planned Parenthood: Federal funds for family planning and health services for women, including cancer screenings. Planned Parenthood does not get federal funding for abortions--federal law, under the Hyde amendment--named for the late Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) has outlawed federal funding for abortion for years.
Reid and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) are meeting at the White House starting at 1 p.m. est with President Obama and Vice President Biden to try to break the deadlock over funding for the about six months left on the fy2011 budget. Congress has passed a series of temporary measures to keep government running while negotiations drag on. The wrangling over the fy2011 budget started before the November mid-term elections when the Democrats held the House and Senate.
From the Senate floor Durbin said in a Thursday morning speech, it is "ridiculous" that Planned Parenthood "should be an obstacle to an agreement."
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) told me Thursday morning he does not support defunding Planned Parenthood, though the organization should take a budget cut--along with others. "I think everybody should be part of shared sacrifice for budget reduction, but not to be zeroed out."
The fight over Planned Parenthood is almost entirely among House Republicans. "I think there was some national attention to it, but cooler heads are prevailing in the Senate," Kirk told me.