Senate GOP takes lead to prevent government shutdown

Greg Nash

Senate Republicans are taking the lead in a carefully orchestrated plan with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to avoid a government shutdown next week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday filed a motion to advance legislation that would redirect Planned Parenthood funding to community health centers and fund the government until Dec. 11. 

{mosads}The action sets up a Thursday vote, the same day Pope Francis speaks to a historic joint session of Congress. 

Democrats will filibuster the stopgap funding measure because of the Planned Parenthood rider, setting up votes on a so-called “clean” continuing resolution next week.

Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the Senate’s No. 3 Republican, said the House and Senate had been in talks and leaders decided that it was better for the Senate to move forward first, to show that a funding bill cutting off Planned Parenthood would fail. 

“It was concluded that giving the Senate ball control by taking the first whack at this and demonstrating what the traffic will bear in terms of where the votes are in the Senate, would give the House an indication of where we are,” Thune said.

Thune said a “clean” spending bill without defunding could come up after that vote fails on Thursday. 

“And then we’ll go to plan B, and I don’t know at that point whether that means the Senate would lead or the House would lead,” Thune said. 

McConnell is expected to move Thursday to a clean stopgap funding measure, stripped of riders, which would be sent over to the House shortly before the deadline to avoid a shutdown.

There is growing pressure on the Senate to move first because the House is out of session until Thursday. Even when it comes back, Boehner will be preoccupied with hosting Francis’s speech to a joint session of Congress that same day.

The compressed timeline may require lawmakers to work over the weekend if Tea Party favorites such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) throw up procedural objections to a stopgap that allows Planned Parenthood to receive funding.

“I think we should stand for principle and not capitulate to President Obama,” Cruz told reporters.

McConnell declined to say how he would proceed if Democrats filibustered the funding bill with the Planned Parenthood rider.

“We’re going to wait until the vote on Thursday and see how that comes out,” he told reporters. “We’ll let you know the way forward after we see what happens Thursday afternoon.”

McConnell focused his comments on blocking funding for Planned Parenthood, even though he has repeatedly criticized the strategy of risking a government shutdown over the issue. 

“For one year, it would defund Planned Parenthood and protect women’s health by funding community health clinics with that $235 million instead,” McConnell said in a floor statement. “This would allow us to press the ‘pause’ button as we investigate the serious scandal surrounding Planned Parenthood.”

The resolution, introduced by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), would fund the government through Dec. 11, giving congressional leaders time to negotiate a year-end budget deal with Obama.

It cuts off funding to Planned Parenthood for one year unless the group certifies that its clinics will not perform or fund abortions. Instead, the bill would redirect $235 million in mandatory savings to increase funding to community health centers.

House GOP leaders will huddle Thursday after Pope Francis’s address to Congress to discuss the steps forward on government funding and Planned Parenthood, according to a GOP aide. 

They will hold a closed-door conference meeting Friday morning to discuss the plan with rank-and-file. 

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said the House will be ready to “act quickly.”

“The most important thing is that we keep the government open for business so that we provide stability to our economy and continue vital federal programs on which all Americans rely,” he said. “I am pleased that there is forward legislative momentum in the Senate to avoid a government shutdown.”

Congress must pass a short-term funding measure by Oct. 1 to avoid a shutdown.

Cochran’s bill sticks to the $1.017 trillion sequestration spending cap for fiscal 2016, which begins next Thursday.

The bill includes $74.7 billion for overseas contingency operations and $700 million in emergency funding to fight wildfires. It also extends the expiring authorities of the Internet Tax Freedom Act, the E-Verify program and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) accused McConnell of wasting time. He noted the Senate has already voted on a bill to defund Planned Parenthood and that the GOP leader has acknowledged that only a clean stopgap can get signed into law.

“The Republican leader has had all these empty show votes,” he said. “This is a waste of time in the Senate and certainly is not helpful to the American people.

“There’s no time for another unnecessary shutdown crisis. We’re going to move to a clean [continuing resolution] on Thursday,” he added. “The rules of the Senate are very complicated sometimes and one or two or three or four senators can create a lot of problems on the floor.”

Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who are both running for president and trying to appeal to Tea Party voters, said Tuesday they would oppose a clean stopgap.

Cruz asserted that Democrats should get the blame for a government shutdown, an argument he deployed two years ago before federal agencies shuttered for 16 days over a fight on ObamaCare.

He declined to say whether he would hold the floor with a talking filibuster to delay action on the measure.

Paul argued that the federal budget should be broken up and voted on piecemeal, so that controversial items such as funding for Planned Parenthood would require 60 votes to pass.

“I won’t vote for anything that’s got Planned Parenthood money in it and I won’t for a [continuing resolution] because it’s a continuation of the problem,” he said. “I’m not voting for any CR because it’s bad government.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who is also running for president, said he would vote to keep the government operating even if it means allowing Planned Parenthood to receive federal funding.

Earlier this month, McConnell predicted Congress would eventually pass a clean short-term funding measure. 

“The only people talking about a government shutdown are the Democrats and nobody has any interest in doing that, so I think we’ll pass a clean CR [continuing resolution], which would operate the government probably into December,” he told Fox Business Network in an interview.

 —Rebecca Shabad and Peter Sullivan contributed.

This story was updated at 4:42 p.m. 

Tags John Cornyn Mitch McConnell Planned Parenthood Rand Paul Shutdown Ted Cruz
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