The Senate voted 100-0 to take up the House-passed continuing resolution Wednesday, while Sen. Ted Cruz indicated a willingness to accelerate the timetable for the more important vote to cut off debate on the bill.
The Texas Republican has long said that the real test will come on the vote to limit debate on the underlying bill, after which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could get the simple majority vote to strike defunding of the health care law.
If all the debate time is used, that would come on Saturday, although Cruz seems to be expressing a new willingness to truncate the debate time. At the end of his marathon floor talk Wednesday, he floated a series of consent agreements that could shorten the dayslong timeline for final Senate approval of a stopgap spending bill to avert a government shutdown next week.
Though it is unclear whether leaders will accept Cruz's offers, the fact that Cruz moved at all from his original position that the Senate should take up full debate time to Sunday could mark progress toward avoiding a shutdown. Many, including most Senate Republicans, view government shutdown as an unavoidable outcome unless the GOP cedes debate time. On Wednesday morning, Cruz offered to open debate on the House-approved continuing resolution by unanimous consent as long as the majority agreed to hold the vote to cut off debate on Friday, so more people might pay attention to it.
The potential procedure changes — which have not yet been accepted by Democrats — come a day after Cruz faced intense pressure from colleagues in consecutive, fractious caucus meetings. The vast majority of Senate Republicans on Tuesday wanted to consent to shorten debate time so that House Republicans would have more time to consider whatever the Senate dispatches and potentially send it back to the Senate again for final passage. Cruz told colleagues on Tuesday, to their dismay, that he would object to any request to shorten the timeline.
Some fiscal conservatives, such as Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., have been so frustrated by Cruz's antics that they have vowed to switch their votes on cloture from "no" to "yes," despite their beliefs that spending levels are too high, largely as a sign of protest against the Texas freshman.
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told Cruz on the floor that the Senate would proceed with its vote Wednesday to open debate. Reid appeared visibly frustrated, both by Cruz's apparent lack of understanding that he was entitled to the floor until 1 p.m. and by Cruz's tone in addressing him. He did not appear prepared to negotiate with Cruz on the floor over the schedule. But if Cruz gives Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., his blessing to truncate the schedule, Reid would come under pressure to agree, lest Democrats appear as if they are trying to jam House Republicans and induce a government shutdown. If the schedule stands as it is now, by rules, the Senate would vote on final passage Sunday, leaving the House with about one day to approve a bill or send it back to the Senate, before the current CR expires.
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