House OKs bill blocking Planned Parenthood funds, amid shutdown worries

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The House voted Friday to block federal funding to Planned Parenthood for a year and curb some abortion practices, in the chamber's first legislative response to videos showing the abortion provider's tissue harvesting practices.

The Planned Parenthood "de-fund" bill passed 241-187, on a nearly party-line vote.

Hanging over the debate, though, was the possibility of a government shutdown showdown. Republican leaders brought the legislation to the floor as they try to address lawmakers' outrage over the videos. Some conservatives originally wanted to demand Planned Parenthood be de-funded as part of a must-pass government budget bill; House leaders tried a different tack Friday with the two bills, which are not tied to the overall budget.

The stand-alone measures, though, stand little chance of becoming law. The Senate has not yet acted on the issue. And the bills not only face opposition from most Democrats but veto threats from the White House.

That means some conservatives could still want to tie the issue to the budget package, as a means of leverage. Congress has until the end of the month to pass a new budget, or else parts of the government could again start to shutter, as happened in 2013.

On Friday, House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., downplayed the chances of such drama.

"We will pass a bill that funds the government," he told Fox News.

The bills approved Friday were a reaction to videos showing Planned Parenthood officials casually describing how they provide researchers with tissue from aborted fetuses. The anti-abortion activists who secretly recorded the videos say they show that Planned Parenthood is illegally profiting from organ sales. The organization says it's broken no laws and is being victimized by deceitfully edited recordings.

"Anyone who watches those videos -- they are horrific," McCarthy told Fox News. "Aborting live babies for profit -- why would anybody want to spend tax dollars for that?"

The first bill would block Planned Parenthood's federal funds for a year. The other would impose criminal penalties on doctors who don't try saving infants born alive during abortions.

The latter measure passed 248-177.

But with the overall government funding issue not resolved, Democrats once again have taken to accusing Republicans of playing games with the economy. The White House, in a statement released Thursday evening, said Obama called the shutdown threat "a game of chicken with our economy that we cannot accept."

It's a tricky situation for House Speaker John Boehner, who wants to avoid a partial government shutdown while preventing a rebellion in the ranks.

"Our leaders wave the white flag every time there's a confrontation," said Rep. Mark Salmon, R-Ariz. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., said Boehner wants to "implement what the lobbyists want, not what the constituents of our district want."

At a closed meeting Thursday among House Republicans, leaders unveiled internal polling that attendees said showed most people would oppose a government shutdown -- even those who have seen the videos and oppose financing Planned Parenthood.

Many Republicans argued that the polling showed a shutdown fight would be damaging and unwinnable, especially since Senate Democrats already derailed a bill erasing Planned Parenthood's funds.

"Pounding on the table doesn't turn 54 into 60 in the Senate," said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., referring to the number of GOP senators and the number it would take to end Democratic filibusters.

The bill by Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., would transfer Planned Parenthood's federal money to thousands of government-backed community health centers. Supporters say that would keep women's health care intact, but opponents say those centers are overwhelmed and often far from women who need them.

Planned Parenthood gets around $450 million yearly in federal payments, mostly Medicaid reimbursements for handling low-income patients, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. That's around one-third of the $1.3 billion yearly budget for the organization, which has nearly 700 clinics and provides sexual disease testing, contraceptives and abortions.

Conservatives' determination to block Planned Parenthood's money has been partly fueled by the race for the GOP's presidential nomination. Several candidates used their Wednesday night debate to urge lawmakers to turn off that funding spigot.

But spotlighting GOP divisions, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., wrote Thursday to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, one of the presidential hopefuls. Cruz wants Republicans to oppose financing the government unless Planned Parenthood's money is cut off, defending his effort during the debate by saying, "I'm proud to stand for life."

Ayotte, who faces her own tough re-election fight next year, wrote that she opposed risking a partial shutdown "given the challenges and threats we face at home and abroad" and asked, "What is your strategy to succeed in actually defunding Planned Parenthood?"

The Associated Press contributed to this report.