In a closed-door session at a Republican policy retreat in Philadelphia this week, GOP members of the House and Senate privately worried about the political consequences of their party's push for a rapid repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Among those who spoke out: Freshman Congressional representative John Faso, a Republican representing NY-19, who told fellow lawmakers that attaching a measure to defund Planned Parenthood to health insurance legislation would be "walking into a giant political trap," and thereby "arming our enemy in this debate."
Recordings of the private session were anonymously leaked to several papers, and the Washington Post published a story earlier today. The article quotes several GOP lawmakers discussing worries that if not handled properly, the repeal process will harm their constituents, the insurance market, and possibly their own re-election prospects.
From the Post's story:
Rep. John Faso (R-N.Y.), a freshman congressman from the Hudson Valley, warned strongly against using the repeal of the ACA to also defund Planned Parenthood. “We are just walking into a gigantic political trap if we go down this path of sticking Planned Parenthood in the health insurance bill,” he said. “If you want to do it somewhere else, I have no problem, but I think we are creating a political minefield for ourselves — House and Senate.”...
...Faso warned that by defunding Planned Parenthood in the reconciliation bill, “we are arming our enemy in this debate.”
“To me, us taking retribution on Planned Parenthood is kind of morally akin to what Lois Lerner and Obama and the IRS did against tea party groups,” he said, a reference to accusations that the Internal Revenue Service improperly targeted conservative political groups for audits.
Faso continued: “Health insurance is going to be tough enough for us to deal with without having millions of people on social media come to Planned Parenthood’s defense and sending hundreds of thousands of new donors to the Democratic Senate and Democratic congressional campaign committees. So I would just urge us to rethink this.”
Washington Post reporter Mike DeBonis writes that the paper contacted lawmakers mentioned in the story, and that they verified the quotes obtained from the recording.
Faso, who has publicly expressed worries about rushing to dismantle Obamacare too quickly, is one of five Republican freshmen serving on the budget committee in the House of Representatives. The budget committee is playing a particularly important role in the repeal of the ACA, and has already produced a budget bill -- passed by the House in a 227-198 party-line vote -- that will prevent Democrats from filibustering replacement health insurance legislation.
Faso has also told constituents that he would not vote to defund Planned Parenthood, according to a letter from a West Hurley resident published earlier this month in the Daily Freeman.
The new Congressman is already facing intense social media pressure from pro-choice constituents, who left hundreds of angry comments on his Facebook page after Faso posted a statement about his vote in favor of H.R. 7, a bill that would penalize private insurance companies that cover abortion by making their enrollees ineligible for tax credits, and would make the annually-renewed Hyde Amendment ban on federal funding of most abortions permanent. The bill passed the House on Tuesday and is headed to the Senate for a vote.
Update, 9:05 p.m.: The Times-Union's Capitol bureau chief, Casey Seiler, has more on this. In a blog post this afternoon, Seiler posted a fuller transcript of Faso's comments at the retreat; according to the post, Faso also said that the idea of pulling funding from Planned Parenthood and giving it to other healthcare providers "doesn't work in my district."
Faso also spoke with the Times-Union about his stance on Planned Parenthood:
In an interview, Faso said that his position on Planned Parenthood remains the same: As long as an organization is properly providing services in a licensed and legal fashion, it should not be targeted out of “political spite” — regardless of what party is doing the targeting. Based on that yardstick, he does not believe Planned Parenthood deserves to have its funding eliminated.
Asked about his reaction to the release of his comments, Faso said, “Nothing surprises me in politics — but it was a confidential, off-the-record meeting.”
Faso also did an interview with WAMC this evening, affirming that he would not vote to defund the organization in a separate vote. From WAMC's story:
In an interview with WAMC Friday evening, Rep. Faso said the comment "If you want to do it somewhere else, I have no problem..." was legislative shorthand. Faso said that he stood by his comments in the meeting that Planned Parenthood defunding should not be part of any bills tied to the replacement of the Affordable Care Act.
Faso said he was the last to speak in a meeting that ended hastily, with lawmakers due at a luncheon with the president and vice president.
Faso, speaking by phone, noted that the Hyde amendment already bans federal funds from being used for abortion procedures. Faso, who has described himself as pro-life for many years, including when he ran for governor in 2006, said if a separate up-or-down vote on Planned Parenthood funding came up in the House, he would vote for the status quo, effectively keeping the organization funded.
"This is not the vehicle to bring this up," he said. "The point is that it should not be in a health insurance bill."