CAPITOL HILL— The U.S. Senate is preparing for an initial vote to keep the U.S. government running for several more months. At issue is President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, which the House of Representatives voted to defund last week.
But with time running short to avert a threatened federal shutdown, Senate action has been slowed by a small Republican faction that occupied the chamber’s floor at length on Tuesday.
The Senate is a notoriously slow-moving body, laden with rules that encourage lengthy debate. Consider the race in Congress to fund the U.S. government by October 1: Even with a threatened shutdown less than a week away, the Senate will have used up two days to get to a vote on whether to allow formal debate to begin on extending federal spending authority.
A small group of Republicans wants to block that debate, fearing it will lead to passage of a bill that restores funding for the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, which Republicans strongly oppose. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a member of the Tea Party faction who is leading the fight, spoke for hours to press his point.
“Americans are suffering because of Obamacare," he said. "Obamacare is not working, and yet fundamentally there are politicians in this body who are not listening to the people. They are not listening to the concerns of their constituents. Our constituents deserve more. No more fake fights, no more hiding your votes, no more games, no more trying to fool the American people. We need to make [Washington] D.C. listen.”
But Cruz’s effort does not have the backing of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who argued against delaying Senate action.
“All it [a delay] does is shut down the government and keep Obamacare funded," he said. "And none of us want that.”
McConnell argues that Republicans should work for a full repeal of the law.
Democrats, meanwhile, noted that American voters did not give Republicans the legislative majority necessary to halt Obamacare, and that risking a government shutdown to force their will benefits no one.
“Republicans are still upset, mad, and angry that they lost the election of 2008," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). "I understand that. And they are still angry that they failed to stop a landmark expansion of health care to millions of Americans. I understand that. They are angry that they have failed to regain control of the Senate, and they are angry that President Obama was overwhelmingly reelected last year. But it is time to set that anger aside.”
A Senate spending bill funding Obamacare is expected by the end of the week. Such a measure would not match a House bill defunding Obamacare. A limited federal shutdown will be averted only if both chambers pass an identical bill by the end of the month.