US Senate advances bill to avert government shutdown

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (center) speaks to the media while flanked by Sen. John Barrasso (left) and Sen John Cornyn, during a news conference after the Republican policy luncheon on Capitol Hill Sept 22, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (center) speaks to the media while flanked by Sen. John Barrasso (left) and Sen John Cornyn, during a news conference after the Republican policy luncheon on Capitol Hill Sept 22, 2015 in Washington, DC.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The Republican-led United States Senate easily advanced a crucial spending bill on Monday (Sept 28) that averts a government shutdown, rebuffing far-right conservatives who have demanded a showdown over funding scandal-plagued abortion provider Planned Parenthood.

Fiscal year 2016 begins Thursday and Congress must approve - and President Barack Obama must sign - legislation that funds federal operations before midnight on Wednesday night or many government departments close up shop.

The Senate measure, which advanced 77 votes to 19, does not defund Planned Parenthood as conservatives had demanded.

It goes to a final vote Tuesday or Wednesday. The House of Representatives will need to pass the same legislation for it to reach the president's desk.

But the bill known as a continuing resolution, which funds government operations at the previous year's level, is a stopgap that lasts only until December 11, and the fight has already shifted toward that next vote for conservatives to strip Planned Parenthood of its federal funds.

Lawmakers will need to begin the haggling and bargaining process soon in order to avert another crisis barely 10 weeks down the track.

The vote on a so-called clean CR follows last week's defeat of a Senate measure that would have stripped funding from the women's health care provider, which has been mired in controversy since secretly recorded video surfaced showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing the use of aborted fetal tissue for medical research.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called it "the only viable way forward."

"It doesn't represent my first, second, third or 23rd choice when it comes to funding the government," he told colleagues.

"But it will keep the government open through the fall, and funded at the bipartisan level already agreed to by both parties as we work on the way forward."

Top Senate Democrat Harry Reid said he was glad that "fortunately cooler heads are prevailing."

But Senator Ted Cruz, the 2016 presidential candidate who is leading the far-right faction in the Planned Parenthood battle, slammed as "surrender" the Republican leadership's move to pass the clean CR.

Senators essentially took the position shared by the American public, which by three to one in a Quinnipiac University poll released Monday opposed shutting down the government amid the Planned Parenthood dispute.