The Senate's two top Republican leaders on Monday put the kibosh on a call from some of their own members to defund Obamacare with a filibuster of a crucial operations budget.
Their move is in line with the increasing GOP consensus that shutting down the federal government to hobble the president's health care law is not a winning strategy for the party.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas both announced that they would vote to override a Republican filibuster of the Continuing Resolution (CR) that the House passed on Friday. That measure would fund the government through Dec. 15 but does not include funding for the 2010 American re.
“Sen. McConnell supports the House Republicans’ bill and will not vote to block it, since it defunds Obamacare and funds the government without increasing spending by a penny. He will also vote against any amendment that attempts to add Obamacare funding back into the House Republicans’ bill,” McConnell spokesman Don Stewart told Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper.
“If and when the Majority Leader goes down that path, Washington Democrats will have to decide — without hiding behind a procedural vote — whether or not to split with their leadership and join Republicans and their constituents in opposing the re-insertion of Obamacare funding into the House-passed bill.”
Earlier on Monday, Cornyn declared his intention public on his Twitter account:
“I intend to support the House bill that defunds Obamacare and will vote against a bill that funds it,” Cornyn said.
Both chambers of Congress and President Barack Obama must agree to a CR within the next week or risk a shutdown. The move makes it less likely that the federal government will face a shutdown when current funding levels expire on Oct. 1.
There are multiple reasons why Republicans would want to support cloture on the CR, which requires a 60-vote threshold: First, it allows them to go on the record in support of a bill that keeps the government open but also defunds Obamacare, which they point to when running for re-election. Once the Senate agrees to cloture, the final version — which will include Obamacare funding — will need only a simple majority to pass. Once it reaches that level in the process, Republicans will likely vote against it, knowing that there will be enough votes in the Democrat-controlled Senate to approve it.
The move, however, effectively rebukes a strategy to filibuster the bill, proposed by Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who has spent the past several weeks urging his colleagues to defund the health care law.
The next major hurdle to avoiding a government shutdown is expected next week, when, assuming the Senate passes the CR without Obamacare funding, the bill will be returned to the Republican-led House.
The White House has drawn a line in the sand, saying President Barack Obama will not sign legislation that strips the funding from his signature domestic achievement, Obamacare, and that he will not negotiate over the debt limit.
Obama himself hammered the message home to Boehner in a Friday telephone call.
The president reiterated “his very firm views about the need to ensure that we don't inflict wounds on the economy unnecessarily by allowing the government to shut down,” press secretary Jay Carney said aboard Air Force One on Monday as Obama headed to the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
Obama himself has previously said he will not trade for raising the debt limit — a step that allows the United States to pay for expenses that Congress has already run up, a bit like a credit card payment.
A senior administration official told Yahoo News that Obama would sign a short-term “continuing resolution” keeping funding levels at levels set in a 2011 spending compromise.
“It’s not controversial to suggest that that would be better than shutting down the government,” the official said. “In a normal world, this wouldn’t be particularly complicated.”
Olivier Knox contributed to this report.