WASHINGTON: Congress and President Barack Obama steered the US government clear of a shutdown hours before a midnight deadline, approving temporary federal spending that does not defund a women’s health care provider as Republicans hoped.
The Senate and House acted pragmatically to fund the government at current levels beyond Thursday’s start of the new fiscal year, and Obama signed the measure into law late Wednesday.
The stopgap only runs through December 11, setting up a new potential fiscal clash just 10 weeks from now.
But it avoids a repeat of 2013, when lawmakers divided over spending allowed the government to skid into a damaging 16-day shutdown.
Obama hailed the congressional action.
“It looks like the Republicans will just barely avoid shutting down the government for the second time in two years,” he told state Democrats at the White House.
House Republican Charlie Dent noted it would be “utterly reckless” to trigger a spending crisis over Planned Parenthood.
“Whether you like them or not isn’t the point. We should never shut the government down over that or frankly any other issue at this time.”
The spending includes funding for the women’s health care and abortion provider long targeted by Republicans.
Debate exploded earlier this year, when abortion foes released secretly-recorded videos that they said show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the for-profit sale of fetal tissue obtained during abortion procedures, which would violate federal law.
Planned Parenthood insists the videos were deceitfully edited, and that its staff was merely discussing the process for obtaining tissue and the legal payments by researchers to cover expenses including transportation.
Appalled arch-conservatives called for a ban on federal funding for the organization, and sought to use negotiations over spending as leverage to achieve their goal.
Efforts to pass a spending measure that blocked money to Planned Parenthood failed last week.
Wednesday’s clean bill passed 78 votes to 20 in the Senate with more than half the chamber’s Republicans voting in favor. No Democrats voted against it.
Senator Ted Cruz, a 2016 presidential candidate who has led the fight to defund Planned Parenthood at virtually all costs, slammed his party’s capitulation.
“Republican leadership chose to abandon its constitutional power of the purse and to fund 100 percent of President Obama’s failed agenda,” Cruz said.
“This was a mistake, and it’s why people are so frustrated with Washington.”
The measure later cleared the House with bipartisan support, 277 to 151.
Top Democrat Nancy Pelosi said the large number of Republicans voting No laid bare the “astounding, toxic radicalism of the Republican majority” as it obsessed over women’s health.
“In the coming weeks, Congress must come together to avert further crisis and negotiate a budget that will responsibly end the sequester and meet the needs of the American people.”
While their defund strategy failed, hard-core conservatives achieved what many in their camp consider a crucial victory: the announced resignation of House Speaker John Boehner, who has been dogged for years by a far-right flank that demands more aggressively conservative action.
With the threat of shutdown defused, Republican leaders in Congress are turning toward talks with Obama over a long-term budget agreement for the remainder of fiscal year 2016, and potentially beyond.
“The president and Speaker Boehner and I spoke about getting started in the discussions last week, and I would expect them to start very soon,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday Tuesday.
Boehner exits Congress on October 30, and the question remains how hard he will push for Republican priorities, which include boosting defense spending, before he leaves.
The government remains constrained by spending curbs that have essentially frozen budget levels since 2011.
Republicans seek increases to military funding, while Obama will press for similar hikes for domestic programs.
Nita Lowey, the House Appropriations Committee’s top Democrat, remained “deeply concerned” about a possible new shutdown threat in December.