The Senate will start its week debating abortion, but it's far from certain Tuesday's symbolic vote will diffuse the tension over Planned Parenthood funding enough to avert a government shutdown.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is following through on a promise made to social conservatives to line up a vote on a bill to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks, a measure that's spearheaded in the Senate by presidential candidate Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
"This vote will mark the first time the Senate has been put on record about this important issue," Graham said in a statement. "I view this vote as the start of a journey, much like the one we used to pass the Unborn Victims of Violence Act and the Partial Birth Abortion Ban. We will take a vote, see where every Senator stands, and then go to work bringing more supporters to our cause. The sooner this legislation becomes law, the better."
It's a measure that has passed the House with 242 votes, but the Senate vote is expected to fall short of the 60 votes needed to limit debate on taking up the measure. Once that happens Tuesday, McConnell will quickly need to start the procedural gears turning on a continuing resolution to keep government operations going past Sept. 30, if he faces procedural objections from Republicans not satisfied with the anti-abortion vote.
Graham is among the members vehemently opposed to the strategy of tying the Planned Parenthood debate up with the must-pass appropriations bill.
The schedule for the week is complicated by the Yom Kippur — which falls on Wednesday — and the historic joint meeting Thursday for the first papal address in the history of Congress. Beyond that, leadership aides are advising that weekend schedules should be kept flexible.
Emerging from a meeting at the White House on Sept. 17 with President Barack Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid warned that, in his view, time had run out for extraneous votes.
"I hope statements Sen. McConnell [has made] over the last few days will continue. He's acknowledged we have to do something about sequestration caps, he’s talked about having a clean CR, I appreciate that very much," Reid said "Because this is a serious time for our country and we’ve got to get past 20-week abortion ban show votes because the pope's coming."
McConnell has been insistent that there will not be a shutdown on his watch, though his assurances are complicated by the underlying tension in the House and with his own right flank.
Sen. Ted Cruz, another presidential hopeful, has been circulating a letter to Republican offices this month seeking signatories to a letter to McConnell with a promise to oppose any continuing resolutions that don't bar funds from flowing to Planned Parenthood.
"The American people should no longer be forced to fund the abortion industry; therefore we will oppose any government funding legislation that would authorize or provide federal funds for Planned Parenthood," a draft of the Texas Republican's letter says.
That has drawn the ire of Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who sent a letter back to Cruz last week asking for his strategy for getting not only 60 votes on defunding the organization, but also the 67 votes needed to overcome a certain Obama veto.
But, Cruz's latest complaints about McConnell, Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and others in GOP leadership go beyond the abortion debate.
"How about we use every constitutional power we have – and let me note right now, we’re heading into a funding fight on Sept. 30th. If Republican leadership actually meant what we’re telling the American people, that this is the single greatest national security threat facing America, that the Ayatollah Khomeini with a nuclear weapon could murder millions of Americans or Israelis or Europeans, then we would use our constitutional authority to stop it," Cruz said Thursday on Fox News. "We would pass a continuing resolution that says, 'No funds may be used to administer this catastrophic deal.'"
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