The U.S. Senate advanced a stopgap spending measure after Republican Ted Cruz defied party leaders by staging a speech that lasted more than 21 hours, as a government shutdown looms.
By a 100-0 vote, the Senate moved forward the House spending bill. Senate Democrats plan to strip from the measure language defunding the 2010 health care law before a final vote as soon as this weekend.
The rare unanimous Senate vote shows that lawmakers of both parties have an incentive to advance the legislation. Republicans don’t want to oppose a bill that chokes off Obamacare funding, while Democrats want to move the bill forward so they they can restore the money for health care.
“I’m for defunding Obamacare,” said Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, referring to the next test vote on the measure. “How do you vote ‘no’ on a bill that defunds Obamacare?”
Congress hasn’t passed a budget for the 2014 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. The House and Senate are at odds over using the measure to stop funding the health law, and the lack of an agreement could lead to a government shutdown on Oct. 1
Cruz and Utah Senator Mike Lee, the chief critics of the health law in the Senate, voted with the majority.
Cruz’s 21-hour, 19-minute speech -- the fourth-longest for the Senate -- compared the fight to end the measure to the nation’s battle for independence against Great Britain and the fight to keep the U.S. unified after the Civil War. He stopped taking at noon as the Senate began a new legislative day.
“I hope over the course of this filibuster the issues that are at the heart of this debate were put front and center in front of the American people,” Cruz said after leaving the Senate floor. “Obamacare isn’t working. When you get outside of Washington, Republicans agree on that, Democrats agree on that, independents agree on that, libertarians agree on that.”
Cruz tactic drew criticism from Senate Democrats, including Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
“It has been a big waste of time,” Reid said after Cruz yielded the floor. “It’s a shame we’re standing here having wasted perhaps two days, most of yesterday and a good part of today, when we could pass what we need to pass very quickly and send it back to the House.”
The Senate vote on the House proposal begins 30 hours of additional debate, after which Reid can set another vote to end debate on the bill.
Senate rules require another day before that vote could occur, unless there’s an agreement to move it up. That means the vote to end debate would occur Sept. 28, with a vote on passage on Sept. 29 at the latest. That would give the House just one full workday to act before spending authority expires.
In addition to railing against the health-care law, Cruz killed time reading from Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” and referencing the reality TV show “Duck Dynasty.”
On another fiscal front, the House today could introduce legislation to increase the U.S. debt limit. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew told Congress today that the extraordinary measures being used to avoid breaching the debt ceiling “will be exhausted no later than Oct. 17.”
House Republicans will include a one-year delay of the health-care law as part of its legislation on the borrowing authority.
The Democratic proposal backed by Reid would fund the government through Nov. 15, a month shorter than the measure the House passed last week, which covered spending through Dec. 15.
Democrats said the shorter stopgap period would give lawmakers time to resolve appropriations for fiscal 2014 that contain automatic reductions known as sequestration.
House Republicans are weighing their options for the spending measure when it comes back to the Senate without health-care defunding. Among them are elimination of the medical-device tax and scrapping the subsidies that members of Congress would receive to buy insurance on the exchanges under Obamacare.
Senate Democrats rejected the idea of attaching the repeal of the tax to a bill to keep the government open.
“That is not the strategy we’re pushing for this time,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, an advocate for repealing a tax that affects companies such as Minneapolis-based Medtronic Inc. (MDT:US) “Right now, we just want to get the government to continue operating.”
Klobuchar said advocates of a device tax repeal are still searching for a way to offset the $30 billion revenue loss over the next decade that could be accepted by both parties.
Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, said lawmakers shouldn’t make major policy on a bill that just keeps government open for six weeks.
“It makes absolutely no sense,” she said.
Although he spoke out against Cruz’s effort yesterday, expressing concern it could leave the House with little time to plan its next move, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky today saluted Cruz for “speaking passionately about an issue that unites every Republican.”
“Later this week, every Republican will unite to vote against any amendment too add funding for Obamacare,” McConnell added.
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