Senate GOP takes lead to prevent government shutdown

23 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Abortion and a government shutdown: Republicans split over how far to take their fight.

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats thwarted a Republican effort to ban late-term abortions on Tuesday as GOP leaders strained to avoid a government shutdown in eight days over the dispute — all against a tangled backdrop of presidential politics. WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has set up a showdown vote for Thursday on a bill financing government agencies through Dec. 11 but also blocking Planned Parenthood’s federal funds for a year. The family-planning organization has been under fierce attack since its officials were shown on secretly-recorded videos discussing the costs involved in collecting tissue from aborted fetuses to be donated for scientific research.

The roll call marked the fifth time McConnell (R-Ky.) has held a fruitless procedural re-do on legislation, the most in a year since 1997, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. Democrats seem certain to block Republican legislation banning most late-term abortions in a Senate showdown with plenty of political significance but little suspense. If he holds one more, he will have overseen the most rejected repeat attempts to end debate on bills of any majority leader since 1983, the last year in a CRS database. But a budget stalemate over Planned Parenthood could cause federal agencies to close at the end of September when the government’s funding for the current fiscal year runs out.

Democrats, in opposing the defense spending bill, have long argued that Republicans are using budget gimmicks to boost military outlays as they shirk domestic priorities. Conservatives’ insistence on cutting the organization’s money has left House GOP leaders so far unable to figure out how to pass legislation averting a shutdown. But that doesn’t mean we won’t keep working to overcome their partisan filibusters and complete the work that needs to be done,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell.

Senior Republicans also said the statistics didn’t tell the full tale, noting the more than 30 votes Republicans held on the Iraq war during the presidency of George W. The Senate voted 54-42 to move ahead on the legislation, but that fell six votes short of the 60 needed to crack a filibuster mostly led by Democrats. Congress is on a limited schedule this week, because of the historic visit by Pope Francis, as well as the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur, but behind the scenes McConnell and his leadership team are working to keep his promise and avert next week’s looming shutdown. “We were sent here not to shut down the government, but to make the government operate to the benefit of taxpayers,” said Sen. A Labor spokesman said the agency is reviewing its options about how to handle the release of economic data in case of a shutdown. “It is our hope that this work will ultimately be unnecessary and that there will be no lapse in appropriations,” spokesman Stephen Barr said. Tuesday’s vote was the second time since this summer’s release of videos involving Planned Parenthood that Senate Democrats have derailed an abortion-related drive by the GOP.

Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), an ally of McConnell, said Tuesday morning. “That’s what we’ll be doing.” “We’re not out to take prisoners,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who is also trying to ensure funding is approved to help fight Western firefights and deal the California drought. But the majority leader is employing the tactic with remarkable frequency: In the last Congress, Reid used the technique once on unemployment benefits. After Thursday’s vote, the Republican leader will then likely ask the Senate to approve a straight-forward stopgap funding bill, as soon as Saturday, without the Planned Parenthood provision, sources said. The nation has been adding more than 200,000 jobs a month for two years, but hiring slowed in August to 173,000, according to a preliminary government report. By having the Senate take the lead on a so-called “clean” spending measure, leaders would be trying to push past their conservative House GOP colleagues, who are expected to oppose such a compromise, and turn to Democrats for passage. “We’ll try to move something shortly, after the pope’s visit,” said Sen.

Reid held plenty of politically charged votes that were rejected last Congress, but did not go to the well for repeated failed votes as McConnell has done. Ultimately, McConnell’s moves appeared aimed at delivering a temporary government-wide funding bill to the House, where abortion politics seems to have GOP leaders flummoxed.

John Thune (R-N.D.), as he arrived at the Capitol on Tuesday. “We may have ball control on this.” The strategy is a familiar one, but not without its political and practical pitfalls. This year, McConnell has tried the repeat-vote strategy on five measures: a Department of Homeland Security funding bill that attacked President Obama’s immigration initiatives; two separate human trafficking proposals; a resolution of disapproval for Obama’s nuclear deal; and Tuesday’s Defense Department bill. GOP leaders in the House have staged several votes on anti-abortion legislation, but the moves haven’t satisfied a handful of GOP hardliners who are insisting that the must-pass budget measure include language stripping taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood. The central bank in mid-September postponed a long-expected increase in a key U.S. interest rate because of fresh worries about a slowing global economy and turbulent stock markets. He also has said that efforts to halt Planned Parenthood’s money won’t succeed unless Obama is replaced by a Republican president in next year’s elections.

The Republican bill would set criminal penalties of up to five years in prison for doctors who perform most abortions 20 weeks or more into pregnancy. The showdown is reminiscent of a failed Cruz-led attempt two years ago to use a must-pass stopgap measure to try to block implementation of the health care law.

Boehner has reached out before to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) to provide the votes needed to push tough legislation over the finish line, but this year he faces a challenge over his speakership by conservatives who have tried repeatedly to remove him from power. Hanging over it all is the weakened political standing of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who is under fire from some tea party conservatives who say he is not tough enough in battling Obama. That has left the speaker in a no-win situation: Compromise with Pelosi and risk a challenge for his job, or stick with his weakened majority and risk a shutdown.

Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a presidential candidate and sponsor of the legislation, said the U.S. is one of just seven countries allowing abortions after 20 weeks and said: “America needs to get out of this club.” Republicans hoped that simply allowing a vote on the bill — which Democrats would not allow when they controlled the Senate — would appeal to socially conservative voters and create campaign problems for Democratic senators from GOP-leaning states. The group gets about $500 million a year from the government to provide services to women, including contraception, screening for sexually transmitted diseases and abortions. By opposing the legislation and casting the battle as one over access to women’s health care, Democrats saw an opportunity to appeal to female and younger voters.

Tuesday’s vote came with Republicans trying to halt the $450 million in federal funding that goes yearly to Planned Parenthood, about a third of its overall budget. Abortion foes say videos show Planned Parenthood has violated federal prohibitions against profiting from fetal tissue sales or changing some abortion procedures to maximize the harvesting of fetus organs. Moreover, the threat of a veto from the White House has left conservatives to deride the antiabortion bills as show-votes that do little to accomplish their goals of ending the practices at Planned Parenthood.

Lawmakers’ focus on abortion intensified thanks to clandestinely recorded videos showing Planned Parenthood officials describing how they sometimes send fetal tissue to medical researchers. In a fresh strategy floated last week, Republican leaders were considering using an obscure budget process, called reconciliation, that would allow measures to defund Planned Parenthood to pass by a simple majority in the Senate — a possible legislative route around the filibuster. In Tuesday’s debate, McConnell described human features visible in fetal sonograms and said scientists say that fetuses can feel pain 20 weeks into development.

Democrats have noted that the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said fetal pain is unlikely until a pregnancy’s third trimester. Under the bill blocked Tuesday, late abortions would be allowed for pregnant women whose lives are endangered or who are victims of rapes for which they’ve received counseling or medical treatment. Doctors performing a permissible late-term abortion would have to try saving the fetus’ life if possible, including having a neonatal specialist present and hospitalizing the newborn.

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