Republicans want the debate over federal funding of Planned Parenthood to take place everywhere.
As expected , Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has filed an amendment to the vehicle for the highway bill that would block taxpayer dollars from flowing to the organization in the aftermath of controversial videos that critics said showed the organization was engaging in improper organ harvesting after abortions.
"The continued disregard and disrespect for human life at Planned Parenthood, a partially taxpayer-funded organization, is shocking and appalling," Paul said in a statement Wednesday.
Given the tight timeline for floor debate on the bipartisan agreement on surface transportation before an end-of-the-month deadline, there's an expectation that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will preclude the offering of most amendments (an anticipated exception being a revival of the Export-Import Bank ).
Senators voted 62-36 to limit debate on advancing to the highway measure Wednesday evening, during a vote held after many thought they were finished work for the night. With the transportation bill potentially unavailable, GOP senators are looking elsewhere.
The issue led longtime abortion-rights ally Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., to ask the committee to pull back legislation at the Veterans' Affairs Committee after Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., sought to amend the bill with the effect of blocking funding for organizations such as Planned Parenthood.
"I know some Republicans are trying to use this latest issue as just one more opportunity to roll back the clock and take away women’s health care options. We can have that fight — we've had it many times before — but don't pull veterans into the middle of it. Don’t take something that should be above politics — our sacred duty to our veterans — and pull it down into the muck of petty politics. It’s not fair to veterans and their families, who have been hoping and praying for the opportunity to have children," Murray said. "It's not fair to the veterans and servicemembers who don’t want to see their health care become just one more political football."
Murray's veterans' health measure, which she had expected to sail through the panel with bipartisan backing would end a longstanding prohibition on the VA providing fertility services.
Tillis appeared on the Senate floor to explain that he had drafted several amendments with concerns about costs and other factors, as well as the very contentious proposal that related to abortion providers.
"[The] amendment has to do with something as simple as not having the VA work with organizations that take the organs of human aborted babies and sell them. Those are the sorts of amendments we were talking about. It wasn't to kill in vitro fertilization. I know of many friends and others who have actually benefited and brought babies into the world through in vitro fertilization," Tillis said. "This was about making sure we did it in a responsible manner."
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid made reference to the debate between Murray and Tillis during his opening speech Thursday on the Senate floor.
A bipartisan group of 50 senators, led by Republican Joni Ernst of Iowa, also sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell seeking cooperation from the Obama administration into inquires about Planned Parenthood and senior officials at the organization.
"In addition to questions about Planned Parenthood’s compliance with applicable federal law and medical ethics, we believe the footage prompts important policy questions surrounding the issue of abortions permitted so late in a pregnancy — sometimes even later than 5 months — that an unborn baby’s organs can be identified and harvested," the senators wrote. The signatories were overwhelmingly Republican, joined by Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va.
Stand-alone legislation has also begun to surface on both sides of the Capitol. For instance, Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., filed a bill that would block federal funding from Planned Parenthood during a yearlong moratorium, unless the group ceases to offer abortion services.
"While the government investigates Planned Parenthood to determine if their practice of adapting their abortion procedures to harvest the organs of children violates federal law, they should not continue to receive taxpayer money. Planned Parenthood receives more than $500 million in taxpayer money every year," Lankford said in a statement. "This is a sensitive topic for many and I am aware our nation is divided on the issue of abortion, but it is common sense that we shouldn’t force taxpayers to assist the harvesting of human organs."
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