With only three days before the deadline for Congress to avoid a government shutdown, the Democrat-controlled Senate on Friday passed a bill to fund the government through Nov. 15, but stripped out a House Republican measure to defund the 2010 federal health care law known as Obamacare.
The end-of-the-week, 54-44 party-line vote sets the stage for a showdown with House Republicans, who are demanding that Obamacare lose its funding as a condition of keeping the government open. Congress must agree to spending levels by midnight Tuesday, or the federal government will partially shut down.
In the weeks preceding the vote, a small group of Senate Republicans, notably Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Utah Sen. Mike Lee, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, actively campaigned to convince their colleagues to refuse to fund the government unless Obamacare is defunded. On Friday, they found few takers.
The conservative lawmakers used a filibuster to force the Senate to take a procedural vote to end debate, which required a 60-vote threshold to pass. That move gave Republicans a chance to block Obamacare funding — albeit at a risk of shutting down the government — and they called on fellow Republicans to join them.
Earlier this week, Cruz delivered a 21-hour speech on the Senate floor to gain attention for the cause, but on Friday, most Senate Republicans rebuked his strategy and supported ending debate. That allowed Senate Democrats to reintroduce the Obamacare funding and pass it with only a majority vote.
Because of the differences in the House and Senate versions of the bill, the measure will now move back to the House, where Republicans have still not outlined a clear path for passage before the shutdown deadline. During a press conference Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner declined to offer possibilities for how the chamber would respond.
The debate preceding Friday’s vote shined a light on divisions within the Republican Party over how best to continue the battle against the 3-year-old health care law. Led by Cruz, tea party conservatives have staked a position to bring down the law at all costs, even if it means shutting down the government. Republicans in leadership, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and his deputy, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, opposed the shutdown plan.