Fiscal Solution Continues to Crawl Forward

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, leaves the floor of the Senate after a testy exchange with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., at the start of legislative business, at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Sept. 23, 2013. Cruz and fellow tea party conservatives on Sunday said President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies would be to blame if they don't accede to demands to strike down the national health care law. The Republican-led House on Friday approved legislation to keep the government running but at the cost of wiping out the Affordable Care Act, popularly known at "Obamacare."
National Journal
Michael Catalini and Billy House
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Michael Catalini Billy House
Sept. 24, 2013, 5:36 p.m.

As Sen. Ted Cruz vowed to talk on the Sen­ate floor about de­fund­ing Obama­care till he can no longer stand, Sen­ate Demo­crats said they now want a Nov. 15 ex­pir­a­tion date for le­gis­la­tion to fund the gov­ern­ment and avoid a shut­down.

Such are the latest moves in the slow-mov­ing polit­ic­al drama at play in the Sen­ate — and soon to move back to the House — as law­makers de­bate a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion to keep gov­ern­ment fun­ded bey­ond the Sept. 30 close of the fisc­al year.

The House bill be­ing de­bated in the Sen­ate, which con­tains the lan­guage the Texas Re­pub­lic­an is de­fend­ing to de­fund the Af­ford­able Care Act, is ex­pec­ted to pass in the Sen­ate stripped of its Obama­care pro­vi­sion. Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id said he ex­pects to vote Sunday on the res­ol­u­tion, which will likely con­tain a topline spend­ing level of $986 bil­lion.

House law­makers will be back in ses­sion on Wed­nes­day, and their lead­ers have in­struc­ted them to an­ti­cip­ate work­ing through the week­end.

A spokes­man for House Speak­er John Boehner would not spec­u­late Tues­day on wheth­er the House Re­pub­lic­an ma­jor­ity might go along with a CR that ends in Novem­ber rather than Decem­ber.

“We’ll deal with whatever the Sen­ate passes when they pass it,” spokes­man Mi­chael Steel said. “There’s no point in spec­u­lat­ing be­fore that.”

Re­id has de­clared that the Sen­ate will hold a vote to end de­bate Wed­nes­day — end­ing Cruz’s stand — and he plans to re­move the lan­guage de­fund­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act there­after.

As Cruz made what could be his cur­tain call for this act, Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell played his foil on Tues­day, ask­ing why he would vote — as Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah want — against a House bill that he and oth­er con­ser­vat­ives sup­port be­cause it con­tains the de­fund­ing pro­vi­sion. Mc­Con­nell and Minor­ity Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said they will vote with Re­id to end de­bate.

But that did not stop Cruz, who con­tin­ued talk­ing — oc­ca­sion­ally re­lieved by Lee and Re­pub­lic­an Sens. Dav­id Vit­ter of Louisi­ana, Rand Paul of Ken­tucky, and Pat Roberts of Kan­sas — through Tues­day even­ing.

“We ought to have all 100 sen­at­ors on this floor around the clock,” Cruz said. “The Sen­ate floor is largely empty. Every­one’s sched­ules are ap­par­ently busy enough that stand­ing up against Obama­care doesn’t make the pri­or­ity list.”

Cruz’s strategy is to block Re­id from gut­ting the Obama­care lan­guage, and he has won the sup­port of out­side groups such as Her­it­age Ac­tion and the Club for Growth. But Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers re­jec­ted the strategy, and Re­id has the votes to cut off de­bate.

“We’d all be hard-pressed to ex­plain why we were op­posed to a bill we were in fa­vor of,” Mc­Con­nell said. “And in­vok­ing clo­ture on a bill that de­funds Obama­care, it doesn’t raise taxes and re­spects the Budget Con­trol Act, it strikes me as a no-brain­er.”

Mean­while, Sen­ate Demo­crats took the op­por­tun­ity Tues­day to cast the de­bate in terms of their policy pref­er­ences. Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Bar­bara Mikul­ski, D-Md., said she fa­vors a short-term meas­ure with a Novem­ber dead­line. Less im­port­ant, she and Re­id said, was the ac­tu­al top-line fig­ure.

The House meas­ure sets spend­ing at $986 bil­lion, which re­flects the se­quest­ra­tion cuts. Sen­ate Demo­crats have passed a budget that sets the fig­ure at $1.058 tril­lion, which as­sumes se­quest­ra­tion is re­pealed.

“We don’t want to talk about the num­ber,” Mikul­ski said. “We want to talk about the goal. You have to move our bill for­ward. Our first thing is to avoid a shut­down and a slam-down. We have a man­u­fac­tured crisis here.”

Re­id agreed, point­ing out that, no mat­ter what is ap­pro­pri­ated, the auto­mat­ic cuts take ef­fect in Janu­ary. “I don’t want to talk like a col­lege pro­fess­or here, but listen, it doesn’t mat­ter what that top num­ber is,” Re­id said.

“The big­ger is­sue is re­pla­cing se­quester for next year and get­ting this to a point where we can work on the long term,” said Sen­ate Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Patty Mur­ray, D-Wash.

The Sen­ate could wrap up be­fore Sunday, but that would re­quire an agree­ment not to use all of the de­bate time al­lot­ted by the rules. Right now, that seems un­likely. But send­ing the bill back to the House be­fore the week­end would al­low House GOP lead­ers more time to counter Demo­crat­ic meas­ures in the bill, which ex­plains Mc­Con­nell’s will­ing­ness to wrap up.

“My own view is it would be to the ad­vant­age of our col­leagues in the House, who are in the ma­jor­ity, to shorten the pro­cess,” Mc­Con­nell said. “And if the ma­jor­ity lead­er were to ask us to shorten the pro­cess, I would not ob­ject.”

Boehner is ex­pec­ted to meet privately with GOP lead­ers Wed­nes­day, and with the en­tire GOP con­fer­ence in a closed-door meet­ing on Thursday.

A House GOP aide said that one idea be­ing “tossed around” by House Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers is to at­tach a one-year delay of Obama­care’s in­di­vidu­al man­date to the CR passed this com­ing week­end by the Sen­ate, and send it right back.

But any such plan is not set in stone, the aide said, and with the House fa­cing next week’s dead­line to avert a shut­down, there are ques­tions about wheth­er there is enough time for such a last-minute tac­tic.

Also on Wed­nes­day, House Re­pub­lic­ans in­tend to form­ally in­tro­duce their ver­sion of a bill to ad­dress the loom­ing debt-ceil­ing dead­line. The na­tion’s $16.7 tril­lion bor­row­ing lim­it will not re­quire an ex­ten­sion un­til mid-Oc­to­ber, ac­cord­ing to Treas­ury, but a vote on the Re­pub­lic­an bill could come as early as Fri­day.

Some Re­pub­lic­ans — in­clud­ing top House lead­ers — say the debt-ceil­ing de­bate may of­fer a bet­ter ven­ue for mak­ing de­mands to delay Obama­care than the con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion to fund the gov­ern­ment.

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