The strategizing in the House came as Senate Democrats advanced a slow but inevitable campaign to approve a measure to keep the government open without undermining the president’s most significant legislative achievement, commonly known as Obamacare.
After Cruz staged his 21-hour attack on the law, he joined all 99 of his Senate colleagues Wednesday in voting to end his filibuster and start debating a House-passed bill that would fund the government through Dec. 15.
As written, that measure also would defund Obamacare. But after a long debate expected to stretch into the weekend, Senate rules permit Majority Leader Reid to strip out the anti-Obamacare provisions, change the expiration date on the funding bill to Nov. 15, and pass the measure with a simple majority achieved entirely with Democratic votes.
With passage of the funding bill all but certain, Cruz’s talkathon accomplished little. The Senate is expected to approve the bill Saturday. That would give Boehner barely 48 hours to pass the Senate version or respond with add-ons.
Among the options: Repeal a tax on medical devices that was adopted to help finance the health initiative but has never been popular in either party; abolish insurance subsidies that members of Congress and their staffs receive from their employer, the federal government; or even delay the health-care law’s requirement that every individual purchase insurance, known as the individual mandate.
But any move to change the bill in the House, no matter how noncontroversial, would require another vote in the Senate, virtually guaranteeing a shutdown. Both chambers must agree on a funding plan by midnight Monday to keep federal agencies open Tuesday.
That leaves approval of the Senate bill as Boehner’s best bet for avoiding a shutdown. And the evolving debt-limit bill could help.
The debt-limit measure, which was still being loaded with new provisions late Wednesday, amounts to a grand conservative wish list. In addition to delaying implementation of the health-care law for one year, the bill would establish a timetable for tax reform, squeeze $120 billion from federal health programs over the next decade — in part by tightening medical malpractice laws — and cut federal civil service pensions.
The measure also would approve construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline and advance other GOP economic goals, including increasing offshore oil drilling, blocking federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and restricting most forms of federal industry regulation.
About the only major piece of the Republican agenda missing from the bill is a ban on late-term abortions — and some lawmakers who oppose abortion were arguing to add that, GOP aides said.