Senate Republicans introduced a short-term spending bill designed to spark a series of moves to fund the government through Dec. 11 and avert a shutdown.
The stop-gap bill introduced Tuesday would defund Planned Parenthood and increase defense spending by approximately $13 billion. The measure will almost certainly fail when it comes up for a procedural vote on Thursday as Democrats are expected to object to both the defense funding increase and the effort to strip funds from the embattled women’s health organization. But the gambit is just the first in a set of delicate moves by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) aimed at averting an Oct. 1 shutdown.
Once the bill fails, GOP leaders are expected to immediately introduce a second spending bill funding the government at current spending levels through the same date, according to several senior Senate aides. That bill — which is being called a “clean continuing resolution” or “clean CR” because of its lack of policy riders — is expected to pass.
The legislation will then be sent — likely on Monday — to the House where Speaker John Bohener (R-Ohio) will have just days to act before a shutdown.
“House Republican leaders continue to talk with members about the path forward on a continuing resolution and legislation that would stop abortion providers from their horrific practices against babies,” said Boehner spokeswoman Emily Schillinger, responding to the Senate move.
McConnell’s strategy is a last-ditch effort to keep the government open while still satisfying conservatives angry about Planned Parenthood. But it may be met with resistance from the Senate’s four Republican presidential candidates — especially Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Still, it’s the only possibility for resolving the situation at the moment.
The strategy seeks to thwart any attempts by Cruz and Paul to derail consideration of the government funding measure.
The pair has declined to say whether they will try and block McConnell’s attempts — though Cruz has repeatedly warned leadership not to ram through a spending deal that includes Planned Parenthood funding.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters on Tuesday that he spoke with McConnell about the plan and he is expecting a vote on clean funding bill immediately following the failed vote on Thursday.
“There’s no time for another unnecessary shutdown crisis,” Reid said.
The clean bill will likely receive significant support from Senate Republicans, many of whom still plan to pursue investigations and legislative action against Planned Parenthood in the future outside of the funding debate.
“I don’t think its going to advance the pro-life agenda to shut down the government so I will vote for a CR,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Thursday.
McConnell was forced to intervene this week as Boehner continues to struggle to convince conservative House members to back any spending bill that includes Planned Parenthood funding. Instead Republican leaders will have to rely on votes from Democrats if they hope to make good on promises to keep the government open.
“I am pleased that there is forward legislative momentum in the Senate to avoid a government shutdown,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) “The House Appropriations Committee remains at-the-ready to act quickly on our side of the Capitol on a Continuing Resolution as soon as final decisions on process, content, and timing are made.”
McConnell is moving forward with the two-pronged strategy, despite repeatedly warning that any attempt to defund the group would be futile right now.
“I’m not happy that we have been forced into pursuing a C.R. instead of the normal appropriations process,” he said on Tuesday. “The bill before us now represents the best option to keep the government funded, to protect women’s health, to press the pause button on funding for a scandal plagued organization as we investigate further into some truly shocking allegations.”
President Barack Obama has said repeatedly he would veto any legislation that defunds Planned Parenthood. But this bill will likely fail well before a veto would be required.
Instead, the plan is to definitively demonstrate that the Senate cannot pass any legislation that defunds Planned Parenthood and that continuing to press the case will only lead to Republicans being blamed for a shutdown.
Once leaders prove that point, they plan to immediately start the procedural process necessary to hold a second vote to extend the current spending levels long enough for Republicans and Democrats to negotiate a long-term budget deal that increases spending across the board.
GOP leaders will be closely watching Cruz and Paul.
The pair have frequently demonstrated their willingness to use the Senate floor to make political statements in line with their presidential ambitions. Cruz has been a wildcard in the spending debate since 2013 when he played a major role in forcing a government shutdown in order to defund Obamacare.
Paul Kane contributed to this story.