Senate fails to advance bill that would cut Planned Parenthood funding
With a federal shutdown days away, Senate Republicans tried -- and failed -- on Thursday to advance legislation that would eliminate money for Planned Parenthood but keep government offices and services open.
Democrats blocked the bill with a filibuster, refusing to cut funds for the large family planning organization after secretly recorded videos disclosed officials discussing the practice of providing fetal tissue from abortions for research. The debate has become a national conversation on abortion.
The vote, coming hours after Pope Francis’ historic address to Congress, was 47-52.
One Democrat joined Republicans to advance the bill, but more telling for the internal GOP divide was that eight Republican senators joined Democrats to filibuster.
Now, with the government set to run out of funds Wednesday, the end of the fiscal year, Republican leaders are struggling for a new plan.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could try to have the Senate approve a straightforward spending bill, without the limits on Planned Parenthood. But that would require him -- and eventually Speaker John A. Boehner -- to leave their conservative flank behind and compromise with Democrats.
Votes on that plan could come in the days ahead, as senators prepare for a possible Saturday session.
The internal split within the Republican majority in Congress is becoming more pronounced as prominent lawmakers push back against the conservatives to prevent a repeat of the 2013 shutdown.
Eleven House Republicans penned a letter to GOP leadership asking for a straightforward bill that keeps government running.
On Thursday, McConnell wanted to give voice to his party’s conservative flank, led by presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, which prefers to fight President Obama over a shutdown than provide the funding.
Boehner pursued a similar strategy in the House by approving bills that cut Planned Parenthood funding and restrict abortion services, but they have no chance of becoming law over Obama’s promised veto.
The Republican leaders’ plan may have backfired, as Cruz and other conservatives mocked those efforts at “show votes” and pressed for a tougher fight.
“The leadership loves show votes,” Cruz wrote in an op-ed in Politico. “The alternative? We actually do what we said we’d do. We fight for common sense, conservative principles.”
The spending bill would have provided stopgap funding to keep government offices and services open through Dec. 11.
It also would have provided $700 million in emergency relief to fight wildfires in the Western states, including in California.
Federal funding is already prohibited from being used for abortions except in extreme cases. But the bill would have cut money for Planned Parenthood, which receives about $450 million from the government to provide other family planning and healthcare services, primarily to low-income men and women through Medicaid and state grants.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said cutting the Planned Parenthood money would provide a temporary savings to the government, but permanently eliminating the funds would add to the deficit because of increased births, and the long-term costs of family planning and healthcare services.
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