Senate Democrats blocked a Republican bill Thursday that would keep the government from shutting down at month’s end but strip funding from Planned Parenthood.
The bill failed to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a Democratic filibuster, with eight Republicans crossing over to oppose the measure and one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, voting with Republicans for a second time to end funding for Planned Parenthood. Many of the Senate Republicans who voted against Thursday’s spending bill say they don’t believe the fight over Planned Parenthood funding should threaten the operation of the government.
Immediately after the vote failed, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed another continuing resolution that does not include the Planned Parenthood language. The new measure is expected to eventually pass the Senate, potentially avoiding a government shutdown set to strike in just a week’s time. But its pathway through the House, where the conservative Freedom Caucus ardently opposes any government-funding bill that gives a pass to Planned Parenthood, is much less clear.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who opposed including Planned Parenthood funding in the CR to begin with, warned against the strategy on Tuesday when the vote was initially announced. “I don’t think the two issues should be linked,” Collins said Tuesday. “I think that we need a clean CR in order to make sure the government does not shut down, and that is my top priority.”
The bill, which would have kept the government open through Dec. 11, was McConnell’s opening move in what has become a high-stakes game of budget chicken. The Republican leader has been very clear that his end goal is to avoid a shutdown, but if—and how—he will achieve this remains up in the air, especially as some Republicans say they won’t vote for any measure that extends federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
McConnell has repeatedly warned his caucus that attaching the Planned Parenthood measure to a government-funding bill would fail. Thursday’s vote demonstrated that point to conservatives in the Senate, and perhaps more importantly, the House. McConnell’s new continuing resolution will keep the government’s doors open through Dec. 11, but it’s unclear when the bill will clear the upper chamber and whether the House can stomach it.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said that the Senate would take its first vote on the new continuing resolution, which maintains funding for Planned Parenthood, on Monday. Sen. Ted Cruz, who has said repeatedly that he will push back on any CR that funds Planned Parenthood, could delay the process, but Thursday's vote and leadership's support makes it likely that the CR will pass the Senate with or without him. Leadership hopes to have the final vote on the CR on Tuesday, giving the House until Wednesday at midnight to try to pass it as well and avoid a shutdown.
House Republican leadership met on the issue Thursday, but leaders said they will make no decisions about how to move forward until after a GOP Conference meeting on Friday morning. They discussed "immediately activating the reconciliation process" to put a bill defunding Planned Parenthood on President Obama's desk, "making him defend these grisly practices," according to a senior GOP aide. Reconciliation allows a bill to pass through the Senate with only 51 votes, meaning it can head to Obama without any Democratic votes. They also discussed ramping up House oversight and investigative activities and sending more antiabortion measures to the Senate.
"We'll be having some more discussions with our members," House Majority Whip Steve Scalise said, exiting Speaker John Boehner's office.
Some members are pushing leaders to hold a vote on a CR with language stripping Planned Parenthood of its federal funding, as McConnell tried to do. Yet others believe that doing so just to vote on a clean CR within days would be a meaningless exercise and could ultimately cost Republican leaders support from their ranks on a final clean CR.
"A lot of people would want to vote to defund [Planned Parenthood], even if it required a change of heart on the next vote, but I suppose some would be on one side of that, others on the other," House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers said. Still, he added that he is confident the House will avoid a government shutdown.
The fight over abortion on the Hill stems from the release of a series of sting videos allegedly showing Planned Parenthood illegally selling fetal tissue. The organization denies the allegations, saying it donated them to medical research and charged only the overhead costs.
With support for a clean continuing resolution in the Democratic caucus and a large portion of the Republican majority as well, Cruz and others cannot prevent the Senate from passing the funding bill, but he could delay it. The Senate requires unanimous approval to shorten its lengthy process for considering and voting on new legislation. With just four legislative days left for Congress to agree on a funding bill before the Sept. 30 deadline, Cruz could wield a lot of power over the clock.
After the vote, Cruz did not say what, if any, action he will be taking next to oppose a clean continuing resolution.
“The timing of the vote is not consequential, whether the vote is Saturday or Sunday or Monday,” he told reporters after the vote. “What’s consequential is that we do the right thing, and so my focus is on urging Republican leadership and all Republicans to stand up and do the right thing—to honor the commitments we made to the men and women who elected us.”
Sen. Rand Paul, who is running against Cruz for the Republican presidential nomination, opposed Thursday’s bill—but not, his office insisted in a statement, because he disagrees with Cruz on the Planned Parenthood issue. Paul opposed the bill because he does not support the continuing resolution and, his office added, has never supported one since entering Congress in 2010.
“Sen. Rand Paul today proved that he is the only candidate willing to stand up to the Washington Machine and put an end to its out-of-control spending. … Sen. Paul has led the charge against Planned Parenthood and introduced legislation to defund it,” Paul’s office said in a statement. “This Short-Term Continuing Resolution, however, does everything except resolve the problem—it is a canard. This 'resolution' will add $400 billion in new debt over the full year and a $10 billion increase over the budget caps.”
Sen. Ben Sasse cited similar reasons for opposing the measure, reiterating his commitment to defunding Planned Parenthood. “Washington's false choice between 'fund it all' or 'shut the government down' is nonsense. This city stumbles from crisis to crisis by short-term budgeting,” Sasse said in a statement.
Daniel Newhauser contributed to this article
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Caitlin Owens is a health care reporter at National Journal. Her work has previously appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.