The Senate took a major step Monday toward keeping the government open and funded beyond this week, staving off hard-line conservatives’ push to threaten a government shutdown over funding for Planned Parenthood, as House GOP leaders settled on a new strategy to force the pro-life issue onto President Obama’s desk.
Most Senate Republicans joined with Democrats to head off the hard-liners’ filibuster attempt, as the House and Senate race a Wednesday deadline for getting a bill done to keep the government operating into the new fiscal year, which begins Thursday.
“It does not represent my first, second, third, or 23rd choice when it comes to funding the government,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “But it will keep the government open through the fall and funded at the bipartisan level already agreed to by both parties as we work on the way forward.”
The bill, which funds operations through Dec. 11, is due for a final Senate vote and then a House vote over the next two days.
The White House said President Obama would sign the resolution if it makes it through Congress, though top Democrats complained the measure simply delayed the standoff for a couple of months.
“The measure is really short-sighted,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said.
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Monday’s vote was 77-19, with 31 Republicans joining 46 members of the Democratic Caucus in supporting the “clean” short-term bill.
Last week Mr. McConnell led a failed effort to try to fund government with the exception of Planned Parenthood. That was easily defeated, leaving the GOP faced with either stripping out the controversial defunding provision or else leaving the government without funding for many basic operations — sending it into its second shutdown in three years.
Republicans got the spending process off to a strong start this year, passing a unified budget for the first time since 2009, and began working on the 12 individual spending bills to carry out the budget.
But internal GOP disputes and Democratic demands for equal increases in domestic and defense spending derailed the process.
The Planned Parenthood fight cropped up this summer after the Center for Medical Progress released a series of undercover videos that appear to show Planned Parenthood officials negotiating the sale of fetal body parts to be used in research. Such sales are only legal if they aren’t done for profit.
Conservatives such as Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican and one of the party’s presidential contenders, had demanded Senate leaders press for a fight, even if it meant flirting with a shutdown.
“You have got one side that has preemptively surrendered,” said Mr. Cruz, whose push to defund Obamacare in 2013 led to a 16-day government shutdown. “Republican leadership has said we will never, ever, ever shut down the government, and suddenly President Obama understands the easy key to winning every battle.”
The House is expected to follow the Senate’s lead, also over the objection of conservatives.
But GOP leaders there have decided to push pro-life bills outside of the annual spending process, instead using a specific budget fast-track tool that could circumvent Democrats’ filibuster power in the Senate. Mr. Obama would, however, retain a veto.
Known as reconciliation, Democrats used the tool to help pass Obamacare in 2010.
For months, Republicans eyed the budget tool as their best shot at denting Obamacare, and Planned Parenthood has become an add-on.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee will write a bill this week to redirect $235 million in Planned Parenthood funding to community health centers, while repealing a portion of Obamacare known as the Public Health and Prevention Fund.
The House Committee on Ways and Means, meanwhile, will write a bill repealing Obamacare’s insurance mandates on individuals and employers, and canceling a yet-to-be-appointed panel that was designed to rein in Medicare costs but has been derided by Republicans as an attempt to ration care.
The committee will also move to repeal the health law’s 2.3 percent excise tax on medical device sales and the so-called “Cadillac tax” that will impose a levy on generous employer health plans starting in 2018.
A third panel, the Education and the Workforce Committee, will work on legislation repealing an Obamacare rule that automatically enrolls full-time employees into company health plans if they do not affirmatively select a plan or opt out of coverage. The rule, which affects companies with 200 workers or more, is not yet in effect, but GOP lawmakers say it is already causing confusion.
The House Budget Committee will fuse the recommendations into a unified bill that can be put on the floor for a vote.
Top-ranking Democrats on the relevant committees accused Republicans of trying to solve their intraparty problems by attacking the health care law.
“The Republicans are marking up this legislation, which amounts to the 61st attempt at repealing the Affordable Care Act, to win votes from recalcitrant Republicans for a clean continuing resolution,” they said.