Democrats and several Republicans banded together on Thursday to block legislation to keep the government open over a contentious, GOP-led effort to strip Planned Parenthood of its taxpayer funding.
The vote was 47-52, falling short of a majority and the 60 votes required to overcome a filibuster led by Democrats. Eight Republicans, several of whom support abortion rights, voted with 42 Democrats and two independents to kill the measure.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky hasn't explicitly said what he'll do next to avoid a government shutdown at midnight on Wednesday. But he's widely expected to begin debate on a bipartisan stopgap spending bill free of the Planned Parenthood dispute that would pass with Democratic support next week and be signed into law by President Barack Obama.
"I think we all know we're going to have a clean" continuing resolution, said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, using the common congressional term. "The House is going to figure out what the House is going to do but we can't shut down the government."
Speaking at the White House, Obama reminded Congress of the need to keep the government open.
Honoring public health workers for their efforts to combat Ebola, the president said such organizations "need support from Congress in order continue to excel in their mission so I hope that Congress chooses to keep our government open and operating so that heroes like this can keep working."
Planned Parenthood has long been targeted by Republicans, but their efforts have intensified after the release of secretly recorded videos that raised questions about its handling of fetal tissue provided to scientific researchers.
The group says it is doing nothing wrong and isn't profiting from such practices in violation of federal law.
The vote to block the stopgap spending bill was widely expected. And on Thursday, the White House issued a statement that Obama would veto it anyway, arguing that it "would limit access to health care for women, men, and families across the nation, and disproportionately impact low-income individuals."
McConnell has long promised there will not be a government shutdown, and allies have telegraphed his next move — a temporary funding bill through Dec. 11 that's free of provisions opposed by Democratic supporters of Planned Parenthood — even while he has held his cards close to his vest.
The Senate's vote, and the bipartisan measure likely to follow, cranks up the pressure on the GOP-controlled House. There, GOP leaders have been stymied in their hopes to pass a temporary spending bill known as a continuing resolution.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has only shaky control over his fractious caucus, and tea party Republicans adamant about using the must-pass measure to carry provisions to defund Planned Parenthood, even at the risk of a partial government shutdown.
GOP leaders like Boehner have counseled privately that it's a doomed strategy and want to avoid a repeat of the 2013 closure, which hurt the party politically.
McConnell appears to enjoy support from a majority of the Republican rank and file.
"I'd rather it defund Planned Parenthood, but if the votes aren't there, I don't see the point of having a standoff," said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate GOP's campaign committee.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who is using his rivalry with GOP leaders in Washington to help define his presidential campaign, responded in an editorial essay in Politico that simply the threat of a shutdown was sending "Republican leadership running for the hills."
Sending such a measure to the GOP-controlled House just a day or two before a potential shutdown seems aimed at giving Republican leaders in the House the push needed to roll over recalcitrant tea partyers opposed to a bill that fails to take on Planned Parenthood.
Both public and internal GOP polling shows that voters do not favor shutting down the government over Planned Parenthood's practices.
Eleven GOP House freshmen — several facing difficult re-election races next year in Democratic-leaning districts — say they oppose a shutdown confrontation. A "Dear Colleague" letter by New York Rep. Elise Stefanik and Pennsylvania Rep. Ryan Costello promises to "avoid repeating the mistakes of the past," a reference to the GOP-sparked 2013 shutdown over implementation of the health care law.
Other GOP freshmen from conservative districts, such as Reps. Ken Buck of Colorado and Jody Hice and Barry Loudermilk of Georgia, have signed on to a more confrontational strategy, along with prominent conservatives like Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C.
The measure also contains $700 million in emergency funding to fight western wildfires.