WASHINGTON–The Democratic-led Senate was on a path Wednesday to passing a bill to prevent a government shutdown while protecting U.S. President Barack Obama’s health care law, despite a conservative senator’s attempt to block the effort by talking all night and into the morning.
At issue is a temporary spending legislation required to keep the government fully open after the Oct. 1 start of the new budget year. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives sent the Senate a version of the bill with a provision that would defund the health care law, trying to seize the opportunity to dismantle one of Obama’s signature domestic accomplishments.
But the Senate is all but certain to return it to the House as a straightforward funding bill stripped of the health care provision. The question is whether the House will approve that version of the legislation in time to prevent a partial shutdown of the federal government.
The issue has roiled the Republican Party, exacerbating the divide between hard-right conservatives and more moderate party leaders who fear Republicans will get blamed if the government shuts down.
Encouraged by conservative groups, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz spoke all night and into the morning in an attempt to delay passage of the spending bill. Cruz, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, had spoken for more than 18 hours by Wednesday morning, with occasional remarks by other conservative senators. But they were virtually sure to lose a test vote on the legislation planned for later Wednesday.
Such paralyzing fiscal fights have dominated Washington in recent years, underscoring the deep divide between the Republicans and the Obama administration and its Democratic allies. The two sides have managed in the past to come up with last-minute compromises to avoid a shutdown.
Republicans fiercely oppose the health care overhaul, which requires Americans to buy health insurance. But Republican leaders opposed Cruz’s time-consuming effort, arguing that defunding the health care law simply won’t happen with a Democratic president and Democrats controlling the Senate.
Cruz, who had started speaking Tuesday afternoon, filled the time in a largely empty chamber, criticizing the law and comparing the fight to the battle against the Nazis. He talked about the Revolutionary War, the Washington ruling class, his Cuban-born father who worked as a cook and even recited Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham.”
Delaying tactics could push a final vote into the weekend, just days before the new fiscal year begins. That would give House Republicans little time to come up with a new temporary spending bill needed to avert a partial shutdown.
Democrats calculate that the public will blame Republicans for any interruption in government services or benefits, as it did during the last Republican-driven shutdown in 1995-96, which ended up reviving the political fortunes of President Bill Clinton.
“I just don’t believe anybody benefits from shutting the government down, and certainly Republicans don’t,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican. “We learned that in 1995.”