Policy

Senate Needs All Hands, Including Vice President, on Measure to Restrict Health Funds

Johnny Isakson, Mike Pence allow Senate to consider joint resolution

Vice President Mike Pence was needed to break a tie just so the Senate could consider a joint resolution that could slow funding to Planned Parenthood. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Senate needed a senator just returning from back surgery and the vice president to break a tie just to proceed to a measure that would allow states to restrict funding to health care providers that provide abortion.

With Republicans Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine voting against proceeding to the joint resolution, the chamber had to wait for Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson to return to the floor with the aid of a walker just to get to 50-50.

That also provided enough time to hustle Vice President Mike Pence into the chamber to break the tie and allow a vote on the resolution.

The legislation would nullify a Health and Human Services rule that prevents states from restricting federal family planning funding to a health care provider — such as denying funds to a center that provides abortions — for any basis other than its ability to provide health care services.

“I’m in the fifth week of about a 12-week rehab from my spinal surgery, and I want to start getting all my routines back to normal, and so I called and told them I thought I could be back this week,” Isakson said. “And if I could vote, I’d like to vote.”

“We didn’t know at the time what it would be, but it turned out to be the vice president’s tiebreaker,” he told reporters.

Democrat Patty Murray of Washington warned Republicans that pushing the measure so hard, with two of their own breaking ranks, would have ramifications. 

“My colleagues and I came to the floor weeks ago to make clear that this harmful legislation should not come to the floor. Republicans didn’t listen to us. They didn’t listen to women across the country who made it clear that restricting women’s access to the full range of reproductive care is unacceptable,” she said on the floor. 

A vote on final passage is expected this afternoon. 

In February, the House passed the resolution, 230-188.

Congress appropriated about $286 million in fiscal 2016 for what’s known as Title X funding, which is supposed to be spent on family planning and reproductive health care. The Obama administration finalized its rule in December after 13 states passed laws to redistribute the funding away from reproductive health care providers, such as Planned Parenthood, and spend it at more general community health care centers.

Niels Lesniewski,  Andy Van Wye and Andrew Siddons contributed to this report.

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