The Republican-led House voted Wednesday to create a special panel to investigate Planned Parenthood and its procurement of fetal tissue as the GOP continued pressing an issue that has galvanized conservatives since secret videos surfaced this summer.
The near party-line vote was 242-184, as Democrats dismissed the probe as a wasteful political exercise by the GOP. It was unclear if Democrats would participate in the committee's work.
Republicans said the committee was needed to examine whether Planned Parenthood is breaking laws or misusing taxpayer money. Four other congressional committees are already investigating the women's health organization, three in the House and one in the Senate.
"Even if these abortion providers somehow manage to comply with all federal laws while dismembering children, it's clear we need to learn more about their barbaric tactics," said Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C.
Democrats likened the new House panel to one Republicans created last year to investigate the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans. Hillary Rodham Clinton was secretary of state at the time, and Democrats say that committee was designed to hurt her prospects as a Democratic presidential candidate. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., now trying to replace the retiring John Boehner, R-Ohio, as speaker, seemed to suggest as much in a TV interview last week.
"Here we go again. Planned Parenthood is the new Benghazi," said Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla.
Boehner suggested establishing a special committee recently as GOP leaders tried staving off conservatives willing to wage a government shutdown fight with President Barack Obama over their attempt to block Planned Parenthood's federal money.
That battle could be revisited in mid-December, when money keeping government agencies functioning runs out. Obama has promised to veto legislation cutting the group's funds.
The House voted last month to halt the federal dollars Planned Parenthood receives, but Democrats blocked similar Senate legislation in August.
Planned Parenthood gets around $450 million in federal funds yearly, around a third of its budget, mostly reimbursements for seeing low-income Medicaid patients. By law, almost none of the federal money can be used for abortions, of which Planned Parenthood performs more than 300,000 annually.
Republicans have trained their fire on Planned Parenthood since the release of abortion foes' videos showing the organization's officials talking about how they harvest tissue from aborted fetuses for medical researchers.
The activists and some Republicans claim the group illegally sells the tissue for profit. Backed by most Democrats, Planned Parenthood says it's only recovered its expenses for retrieving the organs, which is legal, and is the victim of dishonestly edited recordings.
The measure establishing the special House panel does not mention Planned Parenthood by name. It says the committee should investigate "medical procedures and business practices used by entities involved in fetal tissue procurement."
It also authorizes the panel to probe "federal funding and support for abortion providers" and procedures in late-term abortions.
Drew Hammill, spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said he had no information when asked if Democrats would participate in the panel. Democrats considered not participating in the Benghazi panel but have continued doing so.
Wednesday's resolution gives the committee chair the power to issue subpoenas. It will be part of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.