Policy

Senate Votes to Keep Obamacare Funded, Sends CR Back to House

Cruz spoke on the Senate floor for 21 hours in an attempt to get Republicans to block a stopgap spending measure without language to defund Obamacare. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate sent a stopgap spending bill back to the House Friday, after a party-line vote to strip out language that would have cut off funding to the Affordable Care Act.

The House is expected to take up the measure as soon as Saturday, but it is not yet clear how Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, would get either the "clean" continuing resolution passed by the Senate or another amended version approved by his restive conference. Boehner indicated Thursday that he intended to change the Senate bill and send it back to that chamber, prompting Senate Democrats to warn that such an action would make a government shutdown on Oct. 1 almost inevitable.

Senate passage of the bill occurred as expected. First, 25 Republicans joined all members of the Democratic caucus in voting to limit debate on the measure — thereby killing an attempted filibuster by Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Mike Lee, R-Utah, and their allies. Sixty votes were needed. The final vote was 79-19; two Republicans did not vote.

Cruz had attempted to shame Senate Republicans into blocking the stopgap measure, arguing for 21 hours on the Senate floor Tuesday into Wednesday that filibustering was the only way to prevent Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., from eliminating the House provision to defund Obamacare.

But many Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., rejected Cruz's argument, saying the Texas firebrand was attempting to get Republicans to vote against a bill they actually supported. Additionally, they argued that filibustering the bill would only end up shutting the government down while Obamacare would remain funded through mandatory spending.

The vote to limit debate, or invoke cloture, occurred before the vote to strip the Obamacare defunding provision, which was key to those Republicans' calculations. All five members of the GOP leadership voted to cut off debate on the bill.

The Senate also overcame a 60-vote threshold on a vote to waive budget points of order against the bill. Again, several Republicans joined Democrats to leap that hurdle in the 68-30 vote.

But Democrats shouldered the burden in stripping language to defund the 2010 health care law. In the 54-44 vote — which only needed a simple majority to prevail — all Republicans voted to keep the House language.

The Senate then voted, 54-44, to send the bill back to the House. Again, only a simple majority was needed.

House GOP leaders have been scrambling for days to find a plan that would get them to 218 votes, and without any sort of health care language, they might not be able to pass a bill without Democratic help. Sources say the GOP leadership team has tried to impress upon rank-and-file members that they would be blamed in the event of the shutdown, but so far that effort has not helped.

In the Senate, a rift between the majority of the caucus and Cruz and Lee blew out into the open Thursday, with Lee, Cruz and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., hashing it out on the floor. Corker tried to create separation between the GOP conference and the two tea party members, saying that they were the only ones keeping a bill from being dispatched to the House, despite the urging of House leaders to send legislation as soon as possible.