Senate Republican leaders on Tuesday took the first steps to avert a government shutdown by scheduling a vote on a temporary spending measure that would keep agencies functioning through Dec. 11.
The move marked an important breakthrough, even though Democrats were certain to block the spending bill because of a provision cutting off federal financing for Planned Parenthood.
Ultimately, the Planned Parenthood provision, prompted by the controversy over the use of aborted fetuses in medical research, is expected to be dropped from the Senate’s spending bill. That would allow the underlying legislation to move forward with bipartisan support and set up a larger showdown over spending between Republican leaders and President Obama later this fall.
Still, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, urged Democrats to adopt the measure and accused them of pushing the country to the brink of a government shutdown when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30, in a bid to strong-arm Republicans into accepting spending increases.
“They think it’s the only way to force America to accept their demands for more debt and more bureaucracy,” Mr. McConnell said. “But that’s not what Americans want. Americans want Democrats to now work with us responsibly to help our country get out of the situation that they, in fact, have engineered.”
As for Planned Parenthood, Mr. McConnell said the group would lose financing for one year, while $235 million in savings would be redirected to community health clinics.
The Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, complained that Republicans were wasting time. “This vote on Planned Parenthood this Thursday is another rerun vote,” he said, adding, “How many times does the Republican leader need to return to this same show vote?”
The spending fight is the latest in an increasingly tense stalemate between the most conservative wing of the House and Republican leaders in both chambers who wish to keep the wheels of government churning through the next election, and who fear that a shutdown would hurt the chances of electing a Republican to the White House next year.
Abortion has become a flash point in Congress in recent months. On Tuesday, Senate Republicans failed to advance a bill that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks, legislation the House has approved.
The fight has posed the greatest threat yet to John A. Boehner’s leadership as House speaker, with some Republicans saying they will try to oust him if Planned Parenthood does not lose its funding.
Other members of the House leadership have played down that possibility.
If stripped of the Planned Parenthood language, the Senate spending measure will probably win approval in the House with support from Democrats. But House Republican leaders are trying to convince reluctant members that the issue of Planned Parenthood funding is not urgent because the group has received all of its appropriated funding for the year and would not be receiving new funds until April.
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SOURCE: NY Times, David M. Herszenhorn and Jennifer Steinhauer