CAPITOL HILL - The U.S. Senate has blocked a bill that would have kept the federal government open, clearing the path for another bill that is likely to draw bipartisan support.
Senate Democrats banded together to prevent debate on a Republican bill to extend the U.S. government’s spending authority into December. The bill would also have withheld funding from Planned Parenthood, the nation's leading provider of abortion services; that stipulation was demanded by social conservatives.
But Planned Parenthood is also a leading provider of other women's reproductive health services that the Democrats have pledged to defend.
“In just six days, the U.S. government will shut down,” said Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat. “Republicans have decided once again to place partisan ideological agendas over the well-being of the nation.”
“Let us agree that the scandal surrounding Planned Parenthood is deeply, deeply unsettling,” said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. He was referring to a secret videotaping earlier this year of Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of organs from aborted fetuses. “Let us agree that it makes sense to place a scandal-plagued organization on leave without pay.”
Unless Congress acts, the federal government’s spending authority will expire at midnight, September 30, triggering the second partial government shutdown in three years.
Earlier this week, McConnell said he would bring up a “clean” temporary spending bill with continued funding for Planned Parenthood if the measure to exclude such funding was defeated.
That bill is viewed as an unconscionable surrender by conservatives like Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who is seeking his party’s presidential nomination next year.
“We should honor the promises we made to the voters,” said Cruz. “We have Republican majorities in both houses [of Congress]. We should act like it. It is my hope that [congressional Republican] leadership will actually lead.”
That sentiment is shared by a bloc of Republicans in the House of Representatives rumored to be plotting to oust Speaker John Boehner over what they see as the speaker’s reluctance to take a hard line with Democrats on issues like Planned Parenthood.
Boehner has not said whether he would bring up a “clean” spending bill for a vote, but doing so would further embitter detractors in his caucus.
What will Cruz do?
For now, attention is focused on the Senate, where Cruz and others could delay a vote to keep the government open by speaking at length on the floor and employing other tactics.
With time to avoid a shutdown running short, Cruz is not saying publicly what he plans to do.
“I’m not going to share precise legislative strategy,” he told reporters after listening to Pope Francis’ address to a joint meeting of Congress.
President Barack Obama has urged Congress to fully fund the federal government for the entire 2016 fiscal year, which begins October 1.
At the same time, the White House has promised a veto of any bill defunding Planned Parenthood.