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Senate Advances Bill to Keep US Government Open

FILE - Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
FILE - Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

A bill to keep the U.S. government funded for several months cleared a key Senate hurdle late Monday, boosting chances that a federal shutdown can be avoided and sidelining a pitched battle over abortion in the chamber.

A majority of Republicans joined a unified Democratic caucus to advance a bill that extends all federal funding into December. Unlike previous measures blocked in the Senate, this bill includes funds for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s leading provider of abortions.

Senators of both parties described the stopgap bill as far from ideal but better than letting federal coffers run dry.

“It doesn’t represent my first, second, third, or 23rd choice when it comes to funding the government,” said Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. “But it will keep the government open through the fall, and funded at the bipartisan level already agreed to as we work on the way forward.”

“I’m glad that we are on the verge of avoiding another Republican-sponsored shutdown of the federal government, and that cooler heads are prevailing,” said Democratic Leader Harry Reid. “Let’s put the threat of a government shutdown to bed now.”

Next steps

Final Senate passage is expected by Wednesday, at which point the bill goes to the House of Representatives. A partial federal shutdown can be averted only if funding is approved by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama by midnight Wednesday, when the U.S. government’s spending authority expires.

In 2013, a partisan brawl over funding for Obama’s signature health care law halted most federal operations for 16 days. A fiscal showdown this year is opposed by Republican congressional leaders, including House Speaker John Boehner, who on Friday resigned office effective next month.

Analysts say Boehner’s bombshell announcement makes a shutdown less likely – for now.

“The more radical members of the Republican House conference got what they see as a big victory – forcing John Boehner to resign,” said Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. “There’s going to be less of an appetite immediately to double down on hardline political tactics.”

“There’s a greater willingness right now to accept keeping the government open temporarily,” Ornstein added.

Even if a shutdown is averted this week, the battle could be refought in December, when spending authority expires once again and a new House speaker is at the helm.

“The same sets of issues that bedeviled Boehner will then bedevil his successor,” said Ornstein. “They don’t go away.”

The White House and congressional Democrats are urging bipartisan negotiations to agree on domestic and military spending levels that have been pared back in recent years by automatic, across-the-board cuts.

Republicans want to exempt the Pentagon from the so-called sequester, citing national security needs. Democrats say domestic priorities also should be spared from automatic spending cuts.