Senators could be haunted in ’12 by Planned Parenthood, healthcare votes

Vulnerable senators in both parties could be haunted by their votes Thursday on a pair of resolutions demanded by House Republicans.

The Senate rejected resolutions that would bar federal funds from implementing the new healthcare law, and to block funding for Planned Parenthood. 

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House Republicans demanded the votes in exchange for cutting language from a bill to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year, part of a deal worked out last week by the Senate Democrats, House Republicans and the White House that averted a government shutdown. 

The healthcare vote was a tough one for centrist Democrats facing reelection next year, including Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Joe Tester (Mont.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.), who all voted against blocking the funds. Senate Republican strategists said the vote would be a major issue in the 2012 campaign. 

House Republicans are happy to have put the vulnerable Senate Democrats on the spot, but they might also have caused headaches for some Senate Republicans. 

GOP Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.), Susan Collins (Maine), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), and Olympia Snowe (Maine) all voted against the resolution blocking federal funding for Planned Parenthood. 

Brown and Snowe are up for reelection next year and could face conservative challengers in the GOP primary.

GOP strategists insisted Democrats would be hurt next year because of the healthcare vote. 

“They just voted for one of the least popular things that was talked about over the course of the last election cycle,” said a senior Senate GOP aide. “They reaffirmed their support for something that raises healthcare costs, raises premiums and raises taxes. I’m blown away that they’ve rejected their constituents’ fury.”

Manchin said during his 2010 Senate campaign that he would support repealing the entire healthcare reform law if it can’t be amended. Manchin has specifically criticized the individual mandate, which requires people to buy federally subsidized health insurance or pay a fine.

Manchin is filling the remainder of the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s (D-W.Va.) ninth term.

McCaskill will come under criticism for voting to preserve funding for the implementation of healthcare reform after Chris Koster, Missouri’s Democratic attorney general, endorsed a multi-state lawsuit challenging the law. Koster filed a legal brief in federal court this week supporting a lawsuit in Florida challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate.

The five Republicans who voted against blocking federal funds for Planned Parenthood could become the targets of primary candidates.

Brian Darling, senior fellow for government studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said social conservatives would not be happy with the vote against the Planned Parenthood resolution.

But Darling said the backlash would have been more severe if the measure had had a chance of passing. It was soundly defeated 42-58.

“It shows you where these members are, but it had no chance of passing,” Darling said. “Conservatives would be more upset if it mattered and was a deciding vote.

Nevertheless, he said “social conservatives will be upset.”

The resolutions to defund the implementation of healthcare reform and Planned Parenthood each needed 60 votes to pass. The healthcare defunding measure was defeated 47-53.

Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, praised the courage of the GOP senators who broke with their leadership.

“The Republicans who crossed party lines and voted for women’s healthcare today and voted to continue women’s access to birth control and cancer screenings were courageous and they demonstrated they represent a strain of the Republican Party that has unfortunately been underrepresented,” Richards told The Hill in an interview after watching the vote from the Senate chamber’s gallery.

Richards said she did not know how it might affect them in future primaries, saying the vote could help them win support among the broader public.

“After all the attacks, just this week a poll came out that two-thirds of Americans support funding for Planned Parenthood,” she said.

“These five Republicans and the Democrats from conservative states who voted with them are solidly in the mainstream,” she said.

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