Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Autumn season means Congress back in action

Congress is back in action for its autumn session. Members face some very tough issues, so we naturally offer our simplistic solutions.

Will conservative opposition to funding Planned Parenthood result in a government shutdown? Who will be helped or hurt?

Pignanelli: "Save us from the madness." — Senate Chaplain Barry Black, during the 2013 federal government shutdown

Congress is very unpopular with Americans, so both sides of the aisle need to handle this dilemma with caution (in other words, the smart move is to kick the can).

Because of the circumstances surrounding the controversy, critics of Planned Parenthood clearly understand they can keep the issue alive in the public arena with little pushback. So federal funding of the organization will remain a hot topic until the critical moments for the budget resolution.

Congressional leaders also comprehend the polls demonstrate that Americans will be very irritated if access to federal services is denied because of a stalemate over this issue. Furthermore, the video excerpts that spawned the arguments will be replayed incessantly on the media during any shutdown. This would be an untenable situation for both parties on the eve of an election year.

A bill to defund Planned Parenthood already failed in the Senate. Most members understand this development and will avoid an ostracized shutdown over a legislative process so resistant to change. Thus, the last-minute compromise to avert deadlock will likely be an authorized study and investigation of the controversial group.

Webb: I would love to see Planned Parenthood defunded, with the money redirected to other agencies that provide services to women. But conservative Republicans in Congress will be playing right into the hands of President Obama and the Democrats if the government is shut down over this issue.

It’s absolutely true that Obama and the Democrats will be just as responsible as the Republicans for shutting down the government — but Republicans will get the blame. With control of the U.S. Senate and the presidency at stake, it would be a terrible way to start the 2016 election cycle.

Some unyielding conservatives can’t quite grasp the fact that they can’t change government until they control government. And they won’t ever control government if they continue to antagonize voters with unwise crusades. The No. 1 priority should be winning the 2016 election, not dying as martyrs in a less consequential battle. Don’t fall on your swords over Planned Parenthood.

Republican chances of scuttling the Iran deal appear slim. How will this play out in the 2016 elections?

Pignanelli: A successful conclusion of the Iran nuclear agreement will not be known for at least 10 years. The details are complicated and if there are no perceived violations, voters will not register this as a priority in an election.

Yet, Republicans have no electoral risk because Americans are suspicious of Iran. So if access by investigators is stalled or there is an increase in funding of terrorist allies, Democrats will be shouldering a huge burden in their campaigns. Therefore, the president must not relax (even in retirement) and work to ensure compliance to protect his legacy, the supporters of the deal … and global safety.

Webb: Foreign policy should be a Republican strength in the 2016 elections. The Iran deal is a great example of the foreign policy and military weakness of the Obama/Hillary Clinton administration. The world is a much scarier place since Obama took office. He has retreated from a muscular international presence, and the Republicans can make a powerful case for a stronger military and more forceful foreign policy.

But they have to be smart and reasonable. If they come across as reckless, war-mongering cowboys, they will lose. Americans aren’t in the mood for another war. And simply calling everyone “stupid,” as Donald Trumpdoes, isn’t a foreign policy.

Some Utah members of Congress hold key leadership positions. Are they using them effectively to serve the needs of the state and nation?

Pignanelli: Polls indicate that Republicans frustrated with a Congress controlled by their party are fueling Donald Trump’s unexpected popularity. (Democrat lawmakers are not scoring well with their faithful either.) So the successes our delegation have accomplished are lost in the noise of general irritation with Washington, D.C. Hopefully, an important bipartisan legislative initiative (i.e. tax reform, financial regulatory relief, etc.) will break through the morass.

Webb: Sen. Orrin Hatch is providing terrific leadership in the U.S. Senate. He is one of the four or five most powerful members of Congress. To his credit, he is focused on getting things done, not grandstanding or chasing ideological fantasies. He’s a voice of reason and effectiveness.

Congressmen Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz have been very impressive in their public lands work, preparing groundbreaking legislation to resolve decades-old battles over wilderness, energy development, and many other public lands issues.