Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has put in motion a plan he hopes will avoid a government shutdown at the end of the month. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

 

Updated with information on House plans

With less than a week left to avert a government shutdown, Republican leaders are moving forward with plans to pass a stop-gap spending bill next week by promising conservatives a chance to challenge President Obama over Planned Parenthood through a separate piece of legislation.

Anti-abortion lawmakers in the House have threatened to withhold their support for any bill that provides funding for the embattled women’s health group. This has left House GOP leaders scrambling for a way to move a funding bill to keep the government open when the new fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.

Under the plan discussed in a series of closed-door meetings held Thursday by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the House would immediately start the process of attempting to end federal funds for Planned Parenthood through a process known as budget reconciliation, according to House GOP aides. That could then allow leaders to separately pass a bipartisan spending bill to keep the government open and that Obama would sign while still making good on promises to maintain a hard-line on abortion funding.

Reconciliation bills are considered under special rules that require only a simple majority to pass and they cannot be filibustered in the Senate. This means Republicans could use the process to force Obama to veto the legislation, elevating a debate over abortion policy conservatives are eager to have.

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Leaders also plan to vote on more anti-abortion measures in the weeks ahead, including a bill to allow states to exclude abortion providers from receiving Medicaid funds.

Exiting a meeting with GOP leaders, Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) told reporters that her goal was to get legislation defunding Planned Parenthood “to the president’s desk.”

The goal of Republican leaders in both chambers is to avoid a government shutdown, believing voters would blame their party more than Obama and congressional Democrats, and they have been seeking ways to separate the funding bill from the debate over Planned Parenthood. House Republicans are scheduled to gather at 9 a.m. on Friday, a key moment for determining if leadership’s plan is viable.

Already some conservatives have said they are not on board. Boehner met with a group of members, including Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), who signed a letter vowing to oppose any spending bill that includes funding for Planned Parenthood. Mulvaney said he was not swayed.

“I have not changed my mind about anything,” Mulvaney said.

Conservative activist groups, including the influential Heritage Action for America, have said that reconciliation won’t satisfy their demands to strip Planned Parenthood of funding. “The objective is not simply ‘to get a bill on President Obama’s desk.’ The primary objective is to defund this organization,” said Heritage spokesman Dan Holler.

Meanwhile, the Senate on Thursday moved a step closer to passing a bipartisan spending bill to avert a shutdown.

Senate Democrats and some Republicans early in the afternoon blocked a spending bill that would have cut off funding for Planned Parenthood in a vote of 47 to 52. But Senate Republican leaders fully expected the legislation to fail and are now moving forward with their plan to consider a second spending bill that would fund the government at current spending levels through Dec. 11. It is expected to pass on a bipartisan vote as early as Monday.

The Thursday vote was part of a carefully planned series of moves designed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to avert a shutdown by first showing conservatives the Senate cannot pass a spending bill attacking Planned Parenthood, clearing the way for legislation keeping the government open to be moved.

The Republicans who voted against proceeding with GOP leaders’ plan to defund Planned Parenthood on Thursday were Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine, Dean Heller of Nevada, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.

In recent days, both Ayotte and Collins have said they wanted to move straight to a vote on a spending bill that could pass rather than consider the Planned Parenthood language knowing it would be blocked.

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia voted in favor of moving to consider the spending bill.

There could still be some drama in the Senate.

Conservatives, including Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), may take advantage of several opportunities to create procedural hurdles that would slow down the schedule of votes. Cruz has been circulating a letter among Republicans opposing the strategy.

Paul Kane and Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.