U.S. Senate Kills Bills Targeting Health Law, Planned Parenthood

The Democratic-run U.S. Senate defeated measures approved by the Republican-run House to bar spending government funds for the health-care overhaul law and Planned Parenthood.

The House voted 241-185 to stop federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides contraception and abortion services. The legislation was voted down in the Senate, 42-58, with five Republicans joining the 53 members of the chamber’s Democratic caucus to oppose it.

The House vote to deny funding for the health-care law that President Barack Obama pushed through Congress last year was 240-185. The Senate rejected the measure 53-47 on a straight party-line vote.

The votes in both chambers were held yesterday as part of the budget agreement reached last week to finance the government operations through the Sept. 30 end of the 2011 fiscal year. The separate budget measure, with spending cuts of $38.5 billion, cleared both chambers and will become law with Obama’s signature.

House Republicans, who in January passed a measure to repeal the health-care law that is unlikely to come up for a Senate vote, said they were satisfied that senators were required to go on the record on the defunding issue.

Vote Owed Public

“This is a vote that the American public has called for, and a vote that we owe the American public,” Representative Rodney Alexander, a Louisiana Republican, said during yesterday’s House debate on the health-care measure.

Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, said the defunding proposal would “take away the consumer protections” of the health-care law and “put insurance companies back in charge.”

The defunding provisions for the health-care law and Planned Parenthood were included in a budget bill the House passed in February that called for $61 billion in spending cuts this fiscal year. Republicans sought the Planned Parenthood provision because the organization provides abortion services along with other medical care, such as cancer screenings and tests for sexually transmitted diseases.

Obama’s Agreement

Obama insisted that neither provision be included in the compromise budget bill with the $38.5 billion in spending cuts that he negotiated with House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican. The president did agree to the separate votes on the measures, as did Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.

In yesterday’s House votes, three Democrats broke with their party to support defunding the health-care law, while seven Republicans split with their caucus to oppose blocking funding for Planned Parenthood.

Republicans voting against the Planned Parenthood legislation in the Senate were Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Maine’s Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood’s president, hailed the Senate action. In a statement, she said “this extreme proposal” that “would have denied some family planning” and produced more unplanned pregnancies “was rightly rejected by Democrats and Republicans.”

Republican Argument

Federal law bars the expenditure of government money for abortions except under specific circumstances, such as to save a woman’s life. Republicans argued that providing funding to Planned Parenthood frees up other money that the organization can use for its abortion services.

Planned Parenthood affiliates received $363 million in government grants or contracts in the 2009 fiscal year, according to the organization’s 2008-2009 annual report.

DeLauro said that 75 percent of Planned Parenthood’s 3 million patients who depend on the group’s clinics for basic health care live at or below the poverty level.

Planned Parenthood “carries out millions of life-preventing services” each year, DeLauro said. “If this resolution passes all of those services would be lost,” she said.

Representative Alan Nunnelee, a Mississippi Republican, said “it’s morally wrong to have taxpayer dollars” go to Planned Parenthood, which “has assisted in aborting the lives of over 5 million children” since 1977.

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