WASHINGTON — A divided House voted Friday to block Planned Parenthood’s federal funds for a year, as Republican leaders labored to keep GOP outrage over abortion from spiraling into an impasse with President Barack Obama that could shut down the government.
The House used a nearly party-line 241-187 vote to clear the legislation, which stands little chance of enactment. Senate Democrats have enough votes to block it, and for good measure the White House has promised a veto.
Lawmakers are voting next on a related bill to curb some abortion procedures.
But hanging over the debate is the looming possibility of a government shutdown showdown.
GOP leaders hope the bills up for a vote Friday will satisfy conservatives who want to cut off Planned Parenthood. If not, those same conservatives could try and renew last-ditch efforts to demand the organization be de-funded as a condition for approving a must-pass government budget bill.
On Friday, House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., downplayed the chances of such drama.
“We will pass a bill that funds the government,” he told Fox News.
Congress has until the end of the month to pass a new budget, or else parts of the government could again start to shutter, as happened in 2013.
Conservatives originally wanted to demand Planned Parenthood be de-funded as a condition for any budget, but House leaders tried a different tack Friday with the two bills.
The first would block Planned Parenthood’s federal funds for a year. The other would impose criminal penalties on doctors who don’t try saving infants born alive during abortions.
The bills were a reaction to videos showing Planned Parenthood officials casually describing how they provide researchers with tissue from aborted fetuses. The anti-abortion activists who secretly recorded the videos say they show that Planned Parenthood is illegally profiting from organ sales. The organization says it’s broken no laws and is being victimized by deceitfully edited recordings.
“Anyone who watches those videos — they are horrific,” McCarthy told Fox News. “Aborting live babies for profit — why would anybody want to spend tax dollars for that?”
Yet the two stand-alone bills stand little chance of becoming law. They not only face opposition from most Democrats but veto threats from the White House.
That means some conservatives may still want to tie the issue to the budget package, as a means of leverage. Democrats once again have taken to accusing Republicans of playing games with the economy.
The White House, in a statement released Thursday evening, said Obama called the shutdown threat “a game of chicken with our economy that we cannot accept.”
It’s a tricky situation for House Speaker John Boehner, who wants to avoid a partial government shutdown while preventing a rebellion in the ranks.
“Our leaders wave the white flag every time there’s a confrontation,” said Rep. Mark Salmon, R-Ariz. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., said Boehner wants to “implement what the lobbyists want, not what the constituents of our district want.”
At a closed meeting Thursday among House Republicans, leaders unveiled internal polling that attendees said showed most people would oppose a government shutdown — even those who have seen the videos and oppose financing Planned Parenthood.
Many Republicans argued that the polling showed a shutdown fight would be damaging and unwinnable, especially since Senate Democrats already derailed a bill erasing Planned Parenthood’s funds.
“Pounding on the table doesn’t turn 54 into 60 in the Senate,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., referring to the number of GOP senators and the number it would take to end Democratic filibusters.
The bill by Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., would transfer Planned Parenthood’s federal money to thousands of government-backed community health centers. Supporters say that would keep women’s health care intact, but opponents say those centers are overwhelmed and often far from women who need them.
Planned Parenthood gets around $450 million yearly in federal payments, mostly Medicaid reimbursements for handling low-income patients, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. That’s around one-third of the $1.3 billion yearly budget for the organization, which has nearly 700 clinics and provides sexual disease testing, contraceptives and abortions.
Conservatives’ determination to block Planned Parenthood’s money has been partly fueled by the race for the GOP’s presidential nomination. Several candidates used their Wednesday night debate to urge lawmakers to turn off that funding spigot.
But spotlighting GOP divisions, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., wrote Thursday to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, one of the presidential hopefuls. Cruz wants Republicans to oppose financing the government unless Planned Parenthood’s money is cut off, defending his effort during the debate by saying, “I’m proud to stand for life.”
Ayotte, who faces her own tough re-election fight next year, wrote that she opposed risking a partial shutdown “given the challenges and threats we face at home and abroad” and asked, “What is your strategy to succeed in actually defunding Planned Parenthood?”