Senate propels stopgap spending bill to keep government open

Ted Cruz
FILE - In this Sept. 25, 2015 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas speak in Washington. The Senate is on track to advance legislation to prevent the government from shutting down after a midnight Wednesday deadline. But a move by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to strip the measure of language to take away federal funding from Planned Parenthood has rankled conservatives such as Cruz and tea partyers in the House. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate is on track to pass a spending bill to prevent the government from shutting down this week, over the opposition of the most hardline conservative Republicans.

Tuesday’s expected vote comes after a 77-19 tally on Monday easily beat a token filibuster threat. The House also is expected to approve the bill — stripped of a tea party-backed measure to take taxpayer funding away from Planned Parenthood — before Wednesday’s midnight deadline.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is under fire from tea party conservatives who demand that he fight harder against Planned Parenthood, even at the risk of a government shutdown. But McConnell is focused on protecting his 2016 re-election class.

One of the Republicans’ presidential aspirants, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, took to the floor Tuesday morning to endorse a partial government shutdown as a way to gain leverage over President Barack Obama.

“Why don’t we start out with the negotiating position that we defund everything that’s objectionable, all the wasteful spending, all the duplicative spending, let’s defund it all and if there has to be negotiation, let’s start from defunding it all and see where we get,” Paul said.

“But it would take courage because you have to let spending expire,” he said. “If you’re not willing to let the spending expire and start anew, you have no leverage.”

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.

“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.

Republicans have targeted Planned Parenthood for years, but secretly recorded videos that raised questions about the organization’s handling of fetal tissue provided to scientific researchers have outraged anti-abortion Republicans and put them on the offensive in their efforts against the group. The group says it is doing nothing wrong and isn’t violating a federal law against profiting from such practices.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, took to the Senate floor after the vote Monday to denounce the Republican leadership. Cruz is using his rivalry with GOP leaders like McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, as a way to define himself for conservative voters who dominate the GOP presidential primary electorate.

“You want to understand the volcanic frustration with Washington? It’s that the Republican leadership in both houses will not fight for a single priority that we promised the voters we would fight for when we were campaigning less than a year ago,” Cruz said.

The White House weighed in Monday with a statement endorsing the measure since it would allow “critical government functions to operate without interruption, providing a short-term bridge to give the Congress time to pass a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year.”

The Planned Parenthood fight helped topple Boehner, who announced his resignation last week after informing several conservatives that he would not use the must-pass spending measure to take on the group.

The measure now before the Senate would keep the government’s doors open through Dec. 11, but the battle is sure to be rejoined then — at a potentially greater risk of a shutdown.

Boehner said Sunday the House would take up the Senate bill and also look at a select committee to investigate the Planned Parenthood video. The stopgap measure would require Democratic votes to pass.

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