WASHINGTON -- The Senate's top Republican moved swiftly to avoid a government shutdown in six days, pushing legislation that would keep agencies operating without a contentious fight over money for Planned Parenthood.
The action of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., followed a decisive Senate vote blocking a bill that would have stripped Planned Parenthood of its taxpayer funding while keeping the government running through Dec. 11.
The vote was 47-52, falling short of a majority and well shy of 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.
McConnell immediately offered a bipartisan stopgap spending bill free of the Planned Parenthood dispute that's expected to easily clear the Senate next week by a wide bipartisan margin. He has for almost a year promised that Republicans controlling Congress won't repeat the government shutdown of two years ago.
In the House, GOP leaders called a meeting of their fractious rank and file for Friday morning to discuss whether to accept the Senate's move or reject it at the risk that continuing the fight over Planned Parenthood would lead to a government shutdown.
The White House signaled President Barack Obama would sign the measure, called a continuing resolution, into law - if the House steps aside from the fight tea party Republicans want over "defunding" Planned Parenthood.
"I think we all know we're going to have a clean CR," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, using congressional code. "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 in any event, arguing that it "would limit access to health care for women, men, and families across the nation, and disproportionately impact low-income individuals."
The Senate's vote, and the bipartisan measure that followed, 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 are 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, vowed to fight the legislation.
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. Conservative hard-liners including Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, were summoned to Boehner's suite but would not comment on his plans.
But a GOP leadership aide, requiring anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said GOP leaders were considering immediately crafting a separate filibuster-proof budget measure that would permit Republicans to deliver to Obama a measure to take away almost $500 million a year in taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood, most of which goes to provide health services to the poor via the Medicaid program.
The measure also contains $700 million in emergency funding to fight western wildfires.