The Senate on Friday afternoon approved a measure to keep the government running at roughly the same spending levels through mid-November. The bill was then sent back to an uncertain future in the House after stripping out a controversial House-passed provision that would have cut off funding for Obamacare.
House Republicans—and Tea Party firebrands including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)—have required the elimination of any spending tied to President Obama’s 2010 Affordable Care Act in order to avoid a government shutdown this Tuesday, when the new fiscal year begins.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) indicated Thursday that his caucus would not vote for any bill that allows the health insurance program to continue as scheduled. Boehner claimed his members have options to the Senate action which reversed the anti-Obamacare policy included in a bill passed by the House last Friday. But those options have yet to be publicly discussed.
The Senate voted 54 to 44 along strict party lines to approve a Democratic version of a new continuing resolution that would finance the government at roughly the current spending levels. That bill also cleared a critical 79 to 19 procedural vote that—by meeting a 60-vote threshold—eliminated the threat of filibuster made by Cruz and others. Twenty five Republicans cast aye votes to avoid the filibuster but voted no on final passage.
In the run-up to the votes, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) called for Democrats and reasonable-minded Republicans to vote with him to end the debate and approve the legislation. “So the question is, can we overcome modern day anarchists?” Reid said. “Together we will send a message to radical Republicans that we will not allow the law of the land to be used as a hostage . . . I’m pleased that so many of my Senate Republican colleagues seem to understand the stakes of this debate: the economic health of a still struggling nation and the economic well-being of still struggling families.”
Now the bill heads back to a seething, chaotic Republican-controlled House, where Boehner is struggling to find a formula to keep the government open and also raise the federal debt ceiling, but still hold together his fractious conference that is bent on undermining President Obama even if it risks a debilitating shock to the economy.
“This is like the movie ‘High Noon,’” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) of the 1952 cowboy classic. “The two sides are walking down the street. I just hope that, like the movie ‘High Noon,’ the good guys win.”
Rep. Louis Gohmert of Texas, one of a group of 40 or so hardline conservative Republicans, blamed Obama and the Democrats for the current fiscal crisis after they ignored the pleas of his party nearly four years ago and “rammed” the Affordable Care Act legislation “down Americans’ throats without even having them stick out their tongues and say ‘Ah.’
“That’s irresponsible,” Gohmert said, “and we’re the ones who are acting responsibly and trying to mitigate the damage they’ve done to the American people – their health care they’ve lost, they didn’t get to keep, their doctors they’ve lost and didn’t get to keep and now the economy that’s been devastated.”
For others, the 2010 law amounts to a violation of God’s will. “If Obamacare is ever implemented and enforced, we will never recover from it,” said Rep. Steve King (R-IA). “It is an unconstitutional taking of God-given American liberty. … If that means that the President would shut the government down in his throwing of a political tantrum, that’s not on us, that’s on him.”
The Iowa congressman then stressed that the country has survived past government shutdowns just fine. “There were 57 days of government shutdowns under Jimmy Carter,” he said. “We don’t even remember that.”
Obama praised the Senate's bipartisan action and urged House Republicans to follow suit to avoid a government shutdown next week and a default on U.S. debt in mid to late October.
"My message to Congress is this: Do not shut down the government, do not shut down the economy, pass a budget on time, pay our bills on time and refocus on the every-day concerns of the American people," Obama told reporters at the White House. "There will be differences between Democrats and Republicans. We can have all kinds of conversations about how to resolve those differences. There will be areas where we can work together, there will be areas where we disagree."
"But do not threaten to burn the house down simply because you haven't gotten 100 percent of your way," Obama added. "That's not how our democracy is supposed to work."
The Senate’s final passage of the continuing resolution followed a series of procedural votes as Reid stripped out the House GOP demand to defund Obamacare and shortened the period in which the government could continue to operate without permanent legislation from Dec. 15 to Nov. 15.
Even before the votes, Cruz conceded that he and his allies had lost this round. But he said they were certain that the House Republicans would reject Reid’s handiwork and send it back to the Senate for one more vote as the deadline for a government shutdown approaches.
The freshman Texas senator had infuriated many House Republicans by goading them into voting for a measure that would end Obamacare last Friday and then immediately signaling that it had no chance of passing in the Senate.
“The good news is the process isn’t over,” Cruz said today. “It’s going to go back to the House of Representatives and I salute the House for having had the courage to stand up and fight and defund Obamacare. And I remain confident, hopeful and optimistic the House will stand their ground, will continue to fight. Which means this issue is coming back to the Senate.”
The fight over the continuing resolution laid bare sharp divisions within the Republican party, between traditionalists such as Sen. John McCain and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and a new generation of Tea party adherents including Cruz, Mike Lee of Utah, Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky and others.
On Thursday night, an angry Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) confronted Cruz on the Senate floor and accused him of delaying a final vote and trying to “turn this into a show” for his most extreme rightwing supporters. “That is taking priority over getting legislation back to the House so they can take action before the country’s government shuts down,” Corker said.
A newly released survey by Public Policy Polling found that Cruz is now the top choice of Republican primary voters to be their candidate for President in 2016. He leads the way with 20 percent to 17 percent for Rand Paul, 14 percent for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and 11 percent for former Florida governor Jeb Bush.Cruz has gained 8 points since PPP’s last national 2016 poll in July.
During a floor speech this morning, Cruz said, “It is unfortunate that there has been Republican division on this issue,” adding that he assumed that those GOPers who allowed the bill to proceed would soon appreciate what he considers to be the error of their ways.
“When it comes back to the Senate after the House stands its ground once again, we will have an opportunity for Republicans to come home – for Republicans to stand together – and I very much hope the next time this issue is before this body in a few days, that all 46 Republicans are united against Obamacare and standing with the American people,” Cruz said.
This article was updated at 5:04 p.m.