Did the GOP Primary Debate Just Offer a Path to Avoid a Government Shutdown?

Yes. But will it satisfy House conservatives?

Carly takes center stage: From left, Scott Walker, Carly Fiorina, and John Kasich take part in the presidential debate at the Reagan Library on Sept. 16, 2015, in Simi Valley, California.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The most raucous applause of the second presidential debate Wednesday night went to Carly Fiorina, as she vigorously took a stand against the practices of Planned Parenthood. “I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these [Planned Parenthood sting] tapes,” she began. “Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain. This is about the character of our nation, and if we will not stand up and force President Obama to veto this bill, shame on us.”

It tapped so deeply into social conservatives’ moral consciousness that few noticed the procedural path she seemed to endorse for resolving the Planned Parenthood funding impasse—one that was entering the GOP leadership discussion in Washington on Wednesday afternoon. “Forcing Obama to veto” a spending measure that defunds Planned Parenthood would mean either eliminating the Senate filibuster or defunding Planned Parenthood as part of a budget reconciliation package.

The former will not happen. The latter, though?

“Senate GOP leaders are eyeing up an obscure budget tool known as reconciliation as they seek to defund Planned Parenthood without causing a government shutdown,” the Hill reports. “Two GOP leaders said Wednesday they are not ruling out the use of budget reconciliation to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood — a process that would be entirely separate from the government spending bill that Congress must pass by Sept. 30.”

Reconciliation allows legislation that meets certain requirements (e.g., it directly affects spending and revenues and doesn’t increase the deficit, for starters) to bypass a Senate filibuster. It is the Senate majority’s best one-off shot to get an important bill to the president’s desk. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker also seemed to endorse this plan—to more modest fanfare—by declaring, “Pass [a defunding of Planned Parenthood] with 51 votes. Put it on the desk of the president.” Getting a Planned Parenthood defunding bill to the president’s desk, and having him veto it, would serve as a victory in their eyes.

But would that be enough for House conservatives?

Because this budget reconciliation bill would be vetoed. Some 40 conservatives, quartered in the House Freedom Caucus, have pledged not to support any bill that funds Planned Parenthood. Once the reconciliation bill were passed, and vetoed, the situation would be right back to square one: having to pass a bill to keep the government open.

Fiorina, Walker, and other candidates who weren’t quite so gung-ho about inviting a shutdown over the issue seemed to support a compromise that would avoid a shutdown while allowing conservatives to save face. If conservatives don’t accept it, though, then resume your shutdown countdowns.

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the GOP primary.