Congress has begun to take steps to avoid another government shutdown, but it looks like Capitol Hill lawmakers are going to use every second they have before next week’s deadline.
On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) filed a motion to advance funding that would keep the federal government open until December 11 and redirect money from Planned Parenthood to community health centers.
The policy rider is meant to appease conservatives like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), a 2016 presidential candidate, who are outraged after a series of undercover videos showed Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale body parts and tissue from aborted fetuses.
A vote on the spending bill is slated for Thursday, the same day Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of Congress. In a bit of Kabuki, Democrats are expected to filibuster the legislation, so McConnell can then introduce a “clean” short-term funding measure.
The GOP leader’s commitment to going through the motions will burn valuable time off the clock.
Congress must pass a spending bill by October 1 to avoid a shutdown. The House is not even in session until after Francis speaks, and any decisions about funding are expected to wait until GOP members meet Friday morning.
Question marks surround what course of action the lower chamber might take. A sizeable bloc of social conservatives has announced that they won’t vote for any spending measure that includes money for Planned Parenthood. The group is watching GOP leadership carefully and signaled that if they are being set up for nothing more than a “show vote,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) might face a major revolt.
Even though McConnell started getting the gears in motion, Cruz and others could throw a procedural monkey wrench in the works to slow things down and bring Washington even closer to the brink of a shutdown.
If events in the House and Senate go off the rails, the scene next Wednesday could be reminiscent of December 2010 when President Obama signed a three-day stopgap measure that averted a shutdown by mere hours and gave lawmakers more time to hammer out a final, catchall bill.
Some GOP lawmakers are tired of machinations dominating the funding fight.
In a fiery floor speech on Tuesday, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (NH) skewered her fellow Republicans for risking a shutdown just to make a point about Planned Parenthood.
“I’m tired of the people on my side of the aisle who have been pushing this strategy, even though they know they don't have the votes to pass it in the United States Senate, and they certainly don’t have the votes to override a presidential veto,” said Ayotte, who is up for reelection next year and a top Democratic target.
Last week she fired off a strongly worded letter to Cruz asking him to illuminate his “strategy for success” if the government shuttered. Ayotte says she has not received a reply from the presidential hopeful.
On Wednesday, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and ten other freshmen lawmakers sent a letter of their own to the House Republican conference urging them to “avoid another unnecessary and harmful government shutdown.”