By Michael A. Memoli
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON — The Senate is scheduled to vote Friday to send a government-spending bill back to the House without a provision cutting off funds for President Obama’s healthcare law, putting pressure on the Republican-controlled chamber to act with just days left to avoid a government shutdown.
The series of votes scheduled to begin after noon EDT includes a procedural vote that conservative critics of the law, led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), have called their best chance to kill the Affordable Care Act.
Cruz gave a more-than-21-hour filibuster-like speech earlier this week, saying “that is the vote that matters” because 60 votes are required to end debate in the Senate on the House-passed measure, which includes the funding cuts for Obamacare. Republican leaders in the Senate have said they intend to vote yes, arguing that to do so means they are supporting a proposal to defund the healthcare law.
But Cruz said an affirmative vote will allow Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to amend the plan to reinstate funding for the law. Outside groups that have championed the “Defund Obamacare” approach have said they might target Republicans who vote for it in primary elections.
Party divisions over that strategy have largely played out behind closed doors, but spilled into the open Thursday during a rare intraparty debate on the Senate floor. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Cruz and tea party ally Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) were more interested in generating publicity for themselves than supporting an effort to quickly send the bill back to the House, allowing Republicans there time to attach alternative provisions limiting the healthcare law that the Senate could potentially support.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Friday that the battle is “very dysfunctional.”
“We are dividing the Republican Party,” he said in an interview on “CBS This Morning. “Rather than attacking Democrats and maybe trying to persuade those five or six Democrats who are in states that are leaning Republican, we are now launching attacks against Republicans funded by commercials that Senator Lee and Senator Cruz appear in.”
If Congress fails to settle on a plan to keep the government funded by Oct. 1, the start of a new fiscal year, the federal government will see its first shutdown in nearly two decades.
If the Senate, as expected, votes out the spending measure Friday, the focus returns to the House, where another divide among Republicans is playing out.
House GOP leaders have not yet indicated how they will respond to the Senate action. On Thursday, they presented to members a plan for the next fiscal battle — over whether to raise the nation’s debt limit — but by day’s end, it appeared short of the support it would need to pass in the chamber.