Senate Democrats on Monday successfully blocked a GOP effort to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood, ratcheting up a spending fight that has the potential to lead to another government shutdown this fall.
The 53 to 46 vote to eliminate the $528 million the health agency receives from the government is sure to increase the temperature in already heated debate that has roiled Washington for weeks.
Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.VA) and Joe Donnelley (IN) joined chamber Republicans in voting to defund the agency. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), widely regarded as the most vulnerable incumbent up for reelection in 2016, voted against the measure.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also voted ‘no’ so that he can bring it up again later.
Planned Parenthood has come under intense scrutiny following a series of undercover videos showing agency officials speaking casually about the dollar value of fetal body parts and tissue derived from the abortions that are performed at healthcare organization.
Hardline social conservatives like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), a 2016 presidential candidate, and others have told top Republicans that they considered Monday’s vote just for show and vowed not to back any must-pass funding bill that includes money for the organization.
Meanwhile, Democrats have promised to filibuster any GOP attempt to cut off the agency’s funding and are using the scuffle to paint Republicans as eager to risk a shutdown on the divisive issue.
“The chance of a federal government shutdown increased dramatically and precipitously last week from 40 percent to 60 percent. It’s now more likely than not that a shutdown will result from the craziness going on in Washington,” Stan Collender, an executive vice president at Qorvis MSLGROUP, wrote Monday in a column posted on Forbes.com. “If anything, 60 percent may understate the odds of it actually happening,” he added.
For now, GOP leaders are downplaying the possibility of that actually happening.
“I realize some people want to write this as going to be shutdown material … It’s not,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) told Politico. “But we’re serious about it.”
Still, Collender said presidential politics is a major reason the odds of a shutdown have skyrocketed.
While GOP leaders might be able to forge a coalition of lawmakers to pass a short-term spending bill, it might be stopped by Cruz, or by one of the other three Senate Republicans running for the White House who will want to filibuster any attempt debate a continuing resolution that would also fund Planned Parenthood.
“Given the very little time left before the start of the fiscal year, that filibuster alone could lead to at least a quick shutdown,” Collender added.
Meanwhile, Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, who previously called the hidden-camera videos “disturbing,” released a two-minute video defending Planned Parenthood. She also blasted her Republican opponents for supporting the move to end funding.
"If this feels like a full-on assault on women's health, that’s because it is,” she said.
Republicans needed six Democrats to cross the aisle in order to move forward on the defunding bill. Their prospects received a boost when Manchin said he would back the procedural vote.
“Like many West Virginians, I am very troubled by the callous behavior of Planned Parenthood staff in recently released videos,” he said in a statement. “Until these allegations have been answered and resolved, I do not believe that taxpayer money should be used to fund this organization.”
Attempting to find a compromise to put a lid on the funding fight, Kirk and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and introduced legislation Monday that calls for an investigation into Planned Parenthood rather than defund it.