Senate Blocks Spending Bill in Step Toward Avoiding Shutdown

: A U.S. flag flies in front of the dome of the U.S. Capitol February 12, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

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Senate Democrats blocked a U.S. government spending measure Thursday that would strip Planned Parenthood funding, a step that may push lawmakers toward a plan to avoid a shutdown when financing ends Sept. 30.

The 47-52 Senate vote, with 60 required, failed to advance the measure, which would fund the government until Dec. 11. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell planned to schedule a vote Monday on a new stopgap spending proposal that would keep Planned Parenthood funds untouched, said second-ranking Senate Republican John Cornyn of Texas.

“It’s certainly not my preference but we don’t want to fail to keep the government operating, so that’s what this is about,” Cornyn said.

Republican leaders of the House and Senate have said they won’t shut the government down over Planned Parenthood. The party was stung by public opposition to a 16-day partial shutdown in October 2013 over an unsuccessful Republican attempt to defund Obamacare.

President Barack Obama, while presenting a citation to members of the Public Health Service’s Commissioned Corps for their work on Ebola in Africa, said, “I hope that Congress chooses to keep our government open and operating so that heroes like this can keep working.”

House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, has been unable to resolve a dispute with several dozen conservative Republicans who say they are willing to force a shutdown if defunding of Planned Parenthood isn’t linked to a federal spending bill.

Some senators including Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz of Texas insist that the only way to defund Planned Parenthood is to attach the language to must-pass legislation such as the spending measure.

‘Political Games’

Senator Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican, said on the Senate floor Tuesday she was “tired of the political games” and that lawmakers should finance the government without the Planned Parenthood language. She criticized fellow Republicans for trying to defund the group while knowing they can’t overcome opposition from Senate Democrats or Obama.

“They can’t answer the question, ‘what’s the end game for success here?’” Ayotte said.

The Obama administration reiterated Thursday that the president would veto any spending legislation that blocks funds for Planned Parenthood.

“He’s made clear that he does not want the Congress to pass legislation that includes ideological riders,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.

Undercover Videos

Conservatives have said they are outraged by undercover videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing reimbursement for providing tissue from aborted fetuses to researchers.

McConnell of Kentucky said earlier this month that while he supports defunding Planned Parenthood, further efforts to take funds from the organization would be “exercises in futility” because Obama wouldn’t sign such a measure.

Eleven freshman Republican House members signed a letter this week expressing support for a measure “that will avoid another unnecessary and harmful government shutdown.”

The stopgap measure that failed to advance Thursday would redirect about $235 million in Medicaid from Planned Parenthood to community health centers for a year.

The organization has said it doesn’t sell fetal tissue for profit, and instead receives the cost of collecting and delivering it. Bloomberg Philanthropies provides financial support for Planned Parenthood.

McConnell’s spending measure, an amendment to H.J.Res 61, would give the Obama administration much of what it asked for, while saying no to a request to revive the Export-Import Bank.

It would provide funding at an annual rate of $1.017 trillion, including an extra $700 million for fighting wildfires, more than the White House request of $450 million. The bill would set war funding at an annualized rate of $74.7 billion, more than the $58 billion Obama sought.

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