Senate starts spending debate after Cruz's 21-hour marathon
WASHINGTON - The Senate moved Wednesday to take up a House-passed temporary spending bill that defunds President Obama's health-care law after Sen. Ted Cruz ended his more than 21-hour attempt to delay the legislation.
Shortly after 1 p.m., the funding bill passed its first procedural hurdle in the Senate, which voted unanimously to start debating the House version of a government funding measure. The Senate now has 30 hours of debate time scheduled on the House bill.
The vote followed a marathon attack by Cruz (R., Texas) on the Affordable Care Act, in which Cruz commanded the Senate floor for 21 hours, 19 minutes - from Tuesday afternoon to noon Wednesday.
After Cruz ended his marathon, Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) blasted the freshman senator for suggesting during his speech that Republican lawmakers had not fought hard enough to stop the health-care law before Congress passed it in 2010. McCain said he "campaigned all over America" last year to "repeal and replace Obamacare." McCain also vigorously objected to Cruz's comparison of "pundits" who say that the health-care law cannot be defunded to politicians who appeased Nazi Germany before World War II.
Cruz drew handshakes from several conservative lawmakers as he finished speaking and accolades from tea party and other groups. Chris Chocola, president of the Club for Growth, said Americans owe "Cruz a debt of gratitude for standing on principle in the fight to stop Obamacare."
Topsy, a search engine that is a preferred partner of Twitter, calculated on its website during the day that there had been about 200,000 tweets containing the words Ted Cruz in the previous day.
Cruz himself said defying one's own party leaders was survivable. "Ultimately, it is liberating," he declared in predawn remarks on the Senate floor.
He had taken the floor at 2:41 p.m. Tuesday, promising to speak "until I am no longer able to stand." He proceeded to hold forth with occasional assistance from a handful of Republican colleagues, who gave him breaks from speaking by asking lengthy questions, although Cruz was still required to remain on his feet on the Senate floor, with no food or bathroom breaks.
The end of Cruz's speech-making, a filibuster in all but name, followed an exchange late Wednesday morning in which Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) informed Cruz that under Senate rules, he could continue speaking until 1 p.m. But Cruz opted to yield the floor at noon, when the Senate formally began a new legislative day with a prayer.
After the procedural vote, the senators launched a debate that centered on their competing visions of the health-care law, with Republicans demanding its repeal and Democrats defending its accomplishments.
"Obamacare is just as bad as many of us said it would be, and it's about to get a lot worse," Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said. "The train is picking up speed, and there's a bridge out ahead."
Democrats countered that elections were the ultimate polls and that voters faced a clear choice last year.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) contended that Republicans were risking a government shutdown to indulge their "obsession" with the health-care law. "The good news is that obsessive-compulsive disorder is covered under Obamacare," he said.
In the House, Republicans began exploring a potential detour on the path to a shutdown: shifting the fight over health care onto a separate bill to raise the nation's debt limit.
If it works, the strategy could clear the way for the House to approve a simple measure to keep the government open into the new fiscal year, which will begin Tuesday, without hotly contested provisions to defund the Affordable Care Act.
However, it would set the stage for an even more nerve-racking deadline Oct. 17, with conservatives using the threat of the nation's first default on its debt to force the president to accept a one-year delay of the health-care law's mandates, taxes, and benefits.
GOP leaders met for nearly 90 minutes Wednesday afternoon to discuss the strategy, which they plan to present to rank-and-file lawmakers Thursday morning.
Rep. Steve Southerland of Florida, who attended the meeting on behalf of the massive class of GOP lawmakers elected in 2010, sidestepped questions about whether conservatives would be willing to trade the leverage of a government shutdown for the leverage of a default.
Leaders are "running the traps on every conceivable formula," he said. "We're looking at every possibility."
Administration officials dismissed the plan, vowing there would be no delay of the insurance initiative, which is to begin enrolling consumers Tuesday. They argued Republicans risk destroying their credibility among voters, who strongly disapprove of such brinkmanship regardless of their views on the Affordable Care Act.
GIFT OF GAB
Sen. Ted Cruz's address ended Wednesday after more than 21 hours (many say it was not a filibuster because there was a set end time and no real attempt to halt action). Here is his place among the longest filibusters since 1900 and more precise record-keeping:
24 hrs, 18 mins: Strom Thurmond, S.C., civil
23 hrs, 30 mins: Alfonse D'Amato, N.Y., military
22 hrs, 26 mins: Wayne Morse, Ore., oil bill, 1953.
21 hrs, 19 mins: Ted Cruz, 2013.
18 hrs, 23 mins: Robert La Follette Sr., Wis., currency bill, 1908.
16 hrs, 12 mins: William Proxmire, Wis., rise in the debt, 1981.
15 hrs, 30 mins: Huey Long,
La., industrial recovery, 1935.
15 hrs, 14 mins: D'Amato, tax
14 hrs, 13 mins: Robert Byrd, W. Va., civil rights bill, 1964.
Nearly 24 hours: Jefferson Smith (Jimmy Stewart, in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), Willet Dam, 1939. - AP
THE NEXT STEPS
The Senate moved toward a budget plan that would keep the government open past a Monday night deadline while maintaining funding for the health-care law.
The final Senate vote should come no later than Sunday, which would send the plan back to the House. The House would then have to decide whether to keep the government running at least a few months or shut parts of the government to try to force changes in the health-care law.
If Congress cannot agree on a budget plan by the start of the new fiscal year, Tuesday, parts of the government would begin closing.
- McClatchy Newspapers
This article contains information from the Associated Press.