WASHINGTON – Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) will vote to block a spending bill needed to keep the government running past Sept. 30 he said Thursday after Democrats stalled his attempts to offer several amendments chipping away at Obamacare.
His stand means that while Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, has said he doesn’t agree with Sen. Ted Cruz’s tactics on the Obamacare fight, he’ll end up voting in the same column as the Texas firebrand when the spending bill comes up for Senate passage Friday.
“I will be voting no,” on a critical procedural vote, Toomey wrote on Twitter Thursday.
The vote could reinforce Toomey’s conservative credentials – Cruz and others have agitated for Republicans to block the spending bill unless Obamacare is effectively repealed – but could also open him to Democratic charges that he sided with the GOP's shutdown bloc when he couldn’t get the Obamacare changes he wanted.
Since joining the Senate in 2011 as a staunch fiscal conservative, Toomey has struck a delicate balance between firm stands on spending issues and pragmatic compromise, given the GOP's minority status in the Senate (and, perhaps, reflecting a home state that has backed both Democrats and Republicans in recent statewide races).
Toomey has said a full repeal of the controversial health law is unrealistic while Republicans hold only part of the government. But he instead tried for smaller bites at the measure. Toomey called for amendments that would have repealed a tax on medical device makers, delayed by one year the “individual mandate” requiring nearly everyone to have health insurance and repealed a requirement that business provide their employees with health coverage that covers birth control.
He said those steps could win bipartisan support and end the latest spending showdown.
“You can’t pick up a newspaper in America today without reading a front page story about the huge problems and costs and negative effects that Obamacare is creating. I can’t imagine that anyone thinks this is all perfect,” Toomey said on the Senate floor. “Why not repeal a few of the more egregious flaws that have been acknowledged as flaws on both sides of the aisle?”
But his proposals had little chance of receiving a vote. President Obama and Senate Democrats have insisted that they would not allow Republicans to dismantle the law, and a one-year delay of the individual mandate would have at least temporarily undermined a critical piece of the measure.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) called the idea of repealing the medical device tax as part of this bill to keep government funded “stupid,” according to a Reid spokesman.
The Senate will reject any short-term spending bill “that includes a repeal of the medical device tax,” the spokesman wrote in a statement. “If the House wants to avoid a Republican government shutdown, they should pass a clean (bill). Period.”
Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.), has joined Toomey in calling for the device tax repeal, but said it was wrong to push for that step while facing a shutdown.
“If you start down that road, and I get what I want in a resolution vote and then every other Senator gets what they want, guess what, you’re going to have a consequence where you can’t meet a budget deadline and the government shuts down,” Casey said.
He urged quick passage of a spending bill and increase in the federal debt ceiling. “After those hurdles are surmounted, we can have a debate until the cows come home.”
Casey and New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez are expected to support the spending bill Friday. It's not clear yet how Republican New Jersey Sen. Jeff Chiesa will vote.