Senate approves temporary spending bill; House to follow
WASHINGTON — A temporary funding measure that would keep the government open past a midnight deadline easily sailed through the Senate on Wednesday and was expected to make its way shortly through a divided House and on to President Barack Obama.
The 78-20 Senate tally represented a vote of confidence for an approach engineered by top GOP leaders determined to avoid a government shutdown.
That approach, favored by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker John Boehner, has angered tea party lawmakers who wanted to use the must-pass measure to punish Planned Parenthood for its practices involving the supply of tissue from aborted fetuses for scientific research.
Tea party anger directed at Boehner over the Planned Parenthood issue helped prod the Ohio Republican last week to announce he will resign at the end of October. His decision — and other House leadership races — have highlighted divisions between more pragmatic Republicans and a tea party wing that is increasingly dominant, especially in the rough-and-tumble House.
The House was slated to approve the measure Wednesday afternoon, but GOP leaders need Democratic votes to balance out opposition from tea party supporters of "defunding" Planned Parenthood.
The bill would prevent a repeat of the partial federal shutdown of two years ago and finance the government through Dec. 11, which will provide 10 weeks of time to negotiate a more wide-ranging budget deal for the rest of fiscal 2016, which ends on Sept. 30, 2016.
Senate Majority Leader McConnell said Tuesday that he and Boehner spoke with Obama recently and that he expects budget talks to get underway soon.
At issue are efforts to increase the operating budgets for both the Pentagon and domestic agencies still operating under automatic curbs that would effectively freeze their spending at current levels. Republicans are leading the drive to boost defense while Obama is demanding equal relief for domestic programs.
The conversation among McConnell, Boehner and Obama took place earlier this month — before Boehner announced he was stepping down. Many of the conservative GOP lawmakers who helped bring Boehner down want to preserve stringent "caps" on the spending bills Congress passes every year. But Senate Republicans are generally more eager to rework the 2011 budget deal that put them in place.
Boehner's surprise resignation announcement on Friday followed unrest by archconservatives in his conference who wanted to use the pending stopgap spending bill to try to force Democrats and Obama to take federal funding away from Planned Parenthood.
Instead, Boehner and McConnell opted for the pragmatic route — a bipartisan measure that steers clear of the furor over Planned Parenthood and avoids the risk of a partial government shutdown — over the opposition of the most hardline conservative Republicans.
Republicans have long targeted Planned Parenthood, and the group's top official appeared before a House panel on Tuesday to defend it in the wake of videos released this summer concerning its practices in providing fetal tissue for scientific research.
Republicans say the videos, made by abortion foes posing as private purchasers, show Planned Parenthood has broken federal laws including a ban on for-profit fetal tissue sales. The organization says it has acted legally and the videos were deceitfully edited.
Last week, Democrats led a filibuster of a Senate stopgap measure that would have blocked money to Planned Parenthood. Eight Republicans did not support that measure, leaving it short of a simple majority, much less the 60 votes required to overcome the filibuster. After last week's vote failed, McConnell on Monday orchestrated a bipartisan 77-19 vote on a funding bill — stripped of the Planned Parenthood provision — to force a final vote.
"This bill hardly represents my preferred method for funding the government, but it's now the most viable way forward after Democrats' extreme actions forced our country into this situation," McConnell said Tuesday of the stopgap measure.