Obamacare Defunding Likely to be Kicked Back to the House

WASHINGTON – Tea Party Republicans in the Senate are running out of options in their frantic effort to defund Obamacare, meaning the task will likely be handed back over to the House for a final showdown.

The campaign to bleed the Affordable Care Act dry, championed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), suffered a near fatal blow when Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, announced that he would not support a filibuster to bottle up a House-passed continuing resolution that provides temporary funding for the federal government while simultaneously blocking the financing of the wide-ranging health care reform law.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, who controls the flow of legislation to the floor, appears to have the votes necessary to remove the language defunding Obamacare from the House-passed resolution. If he succeeds the measure goes to the House, setting the stage for a nasty conference committee negotiation.

Complicating matters is the continuing resolution. The federal fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, leaving the government without the authority to spend money unless a temporary financing bill is approved. Reid has scheduled a test vote for Wednesday with a final vote likely coming at some point over the weekend.

It was Cruz who took the counter-intuitive step of rallying GOP support to filibuster the resolution he initially urged the lower chamber to adopt – arguing it was the only remaining avenue available in the upper chamber to kill Obamacare funding. But the proposal was quickly deflected by the Republican leadership.

Spokesman Sean Rushton said Cruz wants to block a vote on the continuing resolution out of concern that Reid, who controls the flow of legislation to the floor, “will strip the crucial defunding language.” A filibuster fending off cloture would “block him from changing the bill.”

“We'll use any procedural means necessary to protect the House bill and keep debate open, standing guard against any attempt to reduce this opportunity to another show vote,” Rushton said. “Americans want Congress to pass a bill that funds government but defunds Obamacare and the House worked hard to pass one. Sen. Reid must not be allowed to add Obamacare funding back into the House-passed bill.”

But McConnell, speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday, dismissed the strategy, saying only full repeal “will fully help those trapped by this law.”

“And that’s why I’m supporting the House-passed CR,” McConnell said, rejecting the filibuster effort. “Not only does it defund this terrible law, it doesn’t increase government spending by a penny and it keeps the government from shutting down, which nobody wants. And it does something else -- it puts the focus right where it belongs -- on the Democrats who voted and continue to vote for Obamacare.”

Democrats, McConnell said, “have been hearing the same complaints about Obamacare the rest of us have.” Reid can afford to lose only four of his party’s votes if he hopes to restore the funding. Proceeding to a vote, he said, constitutes a better strategy.

“This is a rare opportunity to defund this law with a simple majority,” McConnell said. “We should have that vote. I just don’t happen to think filibustering a bill that defunds Obamacare is the best route to defunding Obamacare. All it does is shut down the government and keep Obamacare funded. And none of us want that.”

McConnell agreed the healthcare measure should be defunded as outlined in the House-passed CR.

“That’s why I plan to support it,” he said. “But if we’re going to repeal Obamacare, we’re going to need some Democrat votes to do it. That’s the only plan I've seen in this debate that will actually get us to our common goal of undoing this law. For the sake of our constituents, let's unite to achieve it.”

McConnell won the backing of the chamber’s second-ranking Republican, Sen. John Cornyn, of Texas, who argued “the only way to effectively stop Obamacare is to dismantle it entirely. The only way to achieve that currently is through the House-passed continuing resolution.”

“My colleagues and I stand ready to work with the president on smart, patient-centered healthcare reforms that will actually reduce costs and improve access,” Cornyn said. “But we refuse to help him salvage a law that has proven to be so unaffordable, unworkable and so completely at odds with what the American people were told the law would do when this bill was passed.”

Unable to muster the necessary support to filibuster the CR, Cruz changed tactics and sought to establish a rule requiring 60 votes in the 100-member Senate to remove the lower chamber’s Obamacare provision.

"If it is the Majority Leader's intent to fund Obamacare using just 51 votes, then I would submit to every Republican in this body it is our obligation to our constituents to do everything we can to prevent the Majority Leader from funding Obamacare with just 51 votes,” Cruz said. “Any member of this body that votes for cloture on this bill will be voting to allow the Majority Leader to fund Obamacare on 51 votes. I think that vote's a mistake. I think that vote disserves our constituents. I think that vote hurts the people of America.”

Reid immediately rejected the request, leaving Cruz and his allies little room for maneuvering.

Cruz, seeking to delay a vote as long as possible, took to the Senate floor promising to speak “until I am no longer able to stand.” However, since cloture on the bill was already filed before he began talking, it’s not technically a filibuster as it can’t stop Wednesday’s vote.

As of publication, senators joining Cruz and Lee in the long floor speech have included Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), David Vitter (R-La.), Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).

Reid's communications director Adam Jentleson said Cruz "pre-negotiated the terms" of his talkathon with the majority leader yesterday.

Senate Republicans met privately Tuesday afternoon to discuss the best way to proceed. Some lawmakers want Reid to open the floor to some amendments that could slow the process. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are seeking a vote on their proposal to repeal a provision in the Affordable Care Act that imposes a tax on medical devices.

But there exists a GOP faction that wants to send the amended CR back to the House in as swift a manner as possible to provide lawmakers there a greater opportunity to mull their options.