WASHINGTON - In a high-profile vote fraught with political implications, Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) voted Friday to stop a spending bill needed to keep the government running - instantly inviting Democratic attacks that linked him to the most unbending elements of the GOP.
Toomey also sided with Republican hard-liners in a key procedural vote that split the party, joining Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Tex.) and 18 other GOP senators in trying to block the bill funding the government through Nov. 15.
Toomey said he voted against the bill because Democrats wouldn't consider his amendments to chip away at Obamacare -- President Obama's health law. Democrats, though, quickly pounced, saying his vote to block the spending bill was a "radical, obstructionist move."
"With his vote, Sen. Toomey made it clear that he was part of the most extreme, Tea Party wing of the Republican Party," said a release from the Pennsylvania Democratic party. "It is crystal clear: Sen. Toomey is a Tea Party Senator who only gives lip service to moderation when he is in Pennsylvania then turns around and leads the Tea Party when he is in DC."
The final vote on the bill was 54-44, with all present Republicans against it and all Democrats supporting the measure.
The procedural vote, though, represented the most high-profile showdown within the Republican party.
As many GOP leaders urged senators to advance the spending bill - arguing that blocking it and inviting a shutdown would hurt the party's standing - Cruz and his allies tried to rally a conservative bloc to stall the bill in an effort to kill Obamacare.
Toomey sided with Cruz, even though the Pennsylvania senator had argued against a shutdown. Had he prevailed, though, the effect would have been the same: the spending bill would have been stopped and the government would lurch closer to an Oct. 1 shutdown.
Toomey continued to argue Friday that he hoped to avoid that outcome. He has favored repealing Obamacare, but has said for months that the goal was unrealistic while Republicans hold only the House. Instead, he said the GOP should concentrate on eliminating unpopular pieces of the law.
"All my Republican colleagues and I want to end Obamacare completely. All the Democrats support Obamacare and want it to continue," Toomey said in a statement. "Seeking to break this all-or-nothing standoff, I proposed a way to fund the government and to repeal some of the most egregious parts of this terrible law."
Toomey said he wouldn't support the spending bill unless Democrats allowed votes on three amendments: repealing a tax on medical device makers, repealing a rule requiring all employers to provide health coverage that includes birth control, and delaying for a year the mandate that nearly all Americans have health insurance.
Those plans were always unlikely to get a vote, though. Democrats have vowed not to allow Republicans to use the spending measure to chip away at Obamacare, and delaying the mandate could significantly undermine the law.
Once his ideas were blocked, Toomey said he would oppose the spending bill.
"Those three items all have bipartisan support, could have passed the Senate, and might well be acceptable to the House,” Toomey’s statement said Friday. “But we will never know because the Democratic leadership would not permit me to offer those amendments. For this reason, and others, I voted against the measure.”
Toomey has long opposed Obamacare and backed efforts to repeal it, but he has tried to take a more subtle stand than Cruz, the rising Republican firebrand who has enthused conservatives but drawn criticism from many in his own party, worried that his confrontational tactics would ultimately hurt the GOP.
Toomey's vote, though, put him in the same column as Cruz in a stand-off that drew national attention after Cruz and his allies stirred conservative energy in their fight to defund Obamacare.
Toomey has long opposed the health law -- as the Republican from the Allentown area ran for office in 2010, fury over Obamacare powered Republicans across the country. Toomey called for its repeal, and his campaign derided his Democratic opponent for supporting a “Washington takeover” of health care.
He surged into office pledging to fight for smaller government and "pro-growth" economic policies, joining a wave of fresh Republican energy on Capitol Hill.
But in the months since the 2012 elections, when Obama and Democratic Sen. Bob Casey easily won Pennsylvania, Toomey has also worked to project a pragmatic image.
He backed a compromise deal to avoid the “fiscal cliff” and made national headlines by crossing party lines to sponsor a plan to expand background checks on firearm purchases.
Friday's vote provided Democrats with ammunition to attack away at that image.
It also marked the second big vote in recent months in which Toomey sided with conservative Republicans because he said Democrats would not accept his amendments. He also voted against the bipartisan immigration reform package when one of his proposals was rejected.
After Friday's procedural vote, Democrats stripped out the language affecting Obamacare and passed a measure to keep the government funded through Nov. 15 in largely party-line votes.
Sens. Bob Casey (D., Pa.), Jeff Chiesa (R., N.J.) and Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) all voted to advance the bill past the procedural blockade.
Casey and Menendez also supported the amendment to preserve Obama’s health law and to give final approval to the spending bill.
Chiesa and Toomey both voted against the amendment preserving Obamacare and against the final version of the bill, which funded the government with the health law intact.