The Washington Post

Shutdown looming, Senate begins debating spending measure

Congressional reporter Ed O'Keefe outlines the key players in this week's showdown between the House and Senate over the continuing resolution to fund the government. (The Washington Post)

The Senate’s top two Republicans announced Monday that they will not support a conservative revolt in the GOP ranks that seeks to dismantle President Obama’s 2010 health-care law.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and his deputy, John Cornyn (Tex.), said they will not join a band of senators attempting a week-long assault on the legislation. The announcement was a setback for Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), who plan to use whatever limited Senate procedural leverage is available to them to thwart funding for the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare.

Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) vowed Monday that he will strip any defunding language from the House bill, accusing Republican “fanatics” of trying “to take the federal government and our economy hostage to their demands.”

“We’re not going to bow to tea party anarchists who deny the mere fact that Obamacare is the law,” Reid said as he formally brought the spending bill up for consideration. “We will not bow to tea party anarchists who refuse to accept the Supreme Court ruling that Obamacare is constitutional. And we will not bow to tea party anarchists in the House or in the Senate who ignore the fact that President Obama was overwhelmingly reelected a few months ago.”

Republican backlash came almost immediately. Cruz objected to the Senate leader’s request that the chamber also debate and vote on the nomination of a federal district court nominee Tuesday morning.

Later, Cruz sought unanimous consent to approve a House-passed spending measure and to ensure that all amendments to the Senate spending bill be passed with at least 60 votes. Reid objected, which stalled Cruz’s efforts, prompting the senator from Texas to accuse the Senate leader of using Senate rules to his advantage.

“There is a tendency in this town towards brinksmanship, towards pointing to events that can cause instability and uncertainty and using them to try to get your way,” Cruz said.

On the health-care law, Cruz said, “It is our obligation to our constituents to do everything we can to prevent [Reid] from funding Obamacare.”

But a spokesman for McConnell said the senator will vote to proceed with debate on a short-term spending plan passed last week by the House, because it includes language defunding Obamacare and wouldn’t raise federal spending. McConnell also plans to vote against any Democratic attempt to reinstate spending for the law, the spokesman said.

Despite Cruz’s attempts to thwart debate, Reid has the ability to set up the spending measure for its first key procedural test vote on Wednesday morning. More votes on the bill would come Thursday.

The full Senate will return just before noon Tuesday and the House is scheduled to reconvene Wednesday. Senate debate on the spending measure, formally known as a continuing resolution, is expected to last through the weekend, with final passage coming as late as Sunday evening. The bill would then head to the House, with about 30 hours left until government funding expires Oct. 1.

If Congress is unable to reach a deal on the budget and the government shuts down, Americans are poised to blame both political parties about equally, according to a new survey.

A Pew Research Center poll released Monday shows that 39 percent of Americans would blame Republicans, while 36 percent would blame Democrats. The split is similar to one two years ago when Congress confronted a similar potential shutdown.

Aaron Blake contributed to this report.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

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