McConnell Rejects Cruz Solution in Fiscal Fight

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, center, speaks at a news conference with conservative Congressional Republicans who persuaded the House leadership to include defunding the Affordable Care Act legislation to prevent a government shutdown, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. He is joined by Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, far right, and Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., second from right.
National Journal
Billy House Michael Catalini
Sept. 23, 2013, 4:58 p.m.

Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell has re­jec­ted Sen. Ted Cruz’s ap­proach to de­fund­ing Obama­care as the Sen­ate steers to­ward a week­end show­down over a tem­por­ary meas­ure to keep the gov­ern­ment run­ning.

Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, are push­ing for Re­pub­lic­ans to vote against end­ing de­bate on a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion from the House that will ex­tend fund­ing for the gov­ern­ment but de­fund the Af­ford­able Care Act. Their strategy is to de­prive Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id of the abil­ity to strip out the Obama­care lan­guage.

“Sen­at­or Mc­Con­nell sup­ports the House Re­pub­lic­ans’ bill and will not vote to block it, since it de­funds Obama­care and funds the gov­ern­ment without in­creas­ing spend­ing by a penny,” Mc­Con­nell’s of­fice said in a state­ment late Monday. “He will also vote against any amend­ment that at­tempts to add Obama­care fund­ing back in­to the House Re­pub­lic­ans’ bill.”

Mc­Con­nell’s state­ment helped settle a nag­ging ques­tion for some Re­pub­lic­ans: Do they vote against end­ing de­bate on the House con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion — thereby vot­ing against le­gis­la­tion they sup­port — or vote in fa­vor of clo­ture, set­ting up an op­por­tun­ity for Re­id to strip the de­fund­ing lan­guage?

Cruz, the ar­chi­tect of a plan to shut­ter the gov­ern­ment un­less Obama­care is de­fun­ded, has pledged to do any­thing pos­sible to block a House bill that doesn’t con­tain lan­guage to de­fund Obama­care, even though the Texas Re­pub­lic­an and his party do not have the votes. How many Re­pub­lic­ans side with Cruz and Lee isn’t clear.

Re­pub­lic­ans such as Sens. John Mc­Cain of Ari­zona, Bob Cork­er of Ten­ness­ee, Tom Coburn of Ok­lahoma, and Richard Burr of North Car­o­lina, have pub­licly cri­ti­cized the strategy. Sen­ate Demo­crats say they count 24 Re­pub­lic­ans crit­ic­al of the duo’s tac­tics.

Mean­while, Cap­it­ol Hill den­iz­ens will be pre­par­ing to work this week­end as the Sen­ate halt­ingly throttles to­ward a vote to fund the gov­ern­ment bey­ond the end of the fisc­al year Sept. 30 and in­to Decem­ber.

The Sen­ate could vote on a pro­ced­ur­al mo­tion to con­sider the House bill as soon as Wed­nes­day, ac­cord­ing to a Demo­crat­ic aide. That sets up an­oth­er pro­ced­ur­al vote to end de­bate on the bill, likely on Sat­urday. At that point, Re­id will in­tro­duce an amend­ment to strip out the Obama­care lan­guage. The Demo­crat­ic think­ing as­sumes that Re­id will get 60 votes to end de­bate, thereby block­ing Cruz, and would move the le­gis­la­tion back to the House on Sat­urday or Sunday.

Re­id filed the mo­tion to pro­ceed on Monday and said the tim­ing of the first vote is now “on auto­pi­lot,” so the latest it will oc­cur is noon Wed­nes­day, though it could be moved up an hour or two if a ma­jor­ity agrees.

Cruz de­clined to say wheth­er he would take up all the time al­lot­ted for de­bate.

On the ques­tion of the top-line fund­ing level con­tained in the CR — an­oth­er stick­ing point between Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans — Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic aides ac­know­ledge that the House’s $986 bil­lion fig­ure is likely to stand and that Sen­ate Demo­crats don’t have the votes to force their pref­er­ence, a $1.058 tril­lion level.

The le­gis­lat­ive jock­ey­ing to keep the gov­ern­ment fun­ded is not the only place in which par­tis­an po­s­i­tions over the Af­ford­able Care Act are on dis­play. On Tues­day, a sim­il­ar line in the sand will be form­ally drawn by House Re­pub­lic­ans in re­turn for keep­ing the na­tion out of de­fault and able to con­tin­ue bor­row­ing.

A debt-ceil­ing bill will be filed Tues­day with the House Rules Com­mit­tee and pub­licly pos­ted, set­ting up a timetable that would en­able the House to vote on the meas­ure as early as Fri­day. House mem­bers are set to ar­rive back in Wash­ing­ton on Wed­nes­day.

The na­tion’s $16.7 tril­lion bor­row­ing lim­it will not re­quire an ex­ten­sion un­til mid-Oc­to­ber, ac­cord­ing to Treas­ury. But for some Re­pub­lic­ans — in­clud­ing top House lead­ers — a debt-ceil­ing bill is a bet­ter av­en­ue for mak­ing de­mands than the CR cur­rently be­fore the Sen­ate.

As de­scribed by House Re­pub­lic­ans and aides, the bill would sus­pend the United States bor­row­ing lim­it un­til Decem­ber 2014, rather than rais­ing it by a spe­cif­ic amount. The bill will also con­tain a bevy of oth­er Re­pub­lic­an meas­ures, in­clud­ing one that would delay the im­ple­ment­a­tion of Obama­care by a year. Oth­ers in­clude lan­guage to redo the U.S. tax code, in­crease means-test­ing for Medi­care, au­thor­ize the build­ing of the Key­stone XL pipeline, and pro­mote en­ergy pro­duc­tion off­shore and on fed­er­al lands.

Pres­id­ent Obama and con­gres­sion­al Demo­crats, mean­while, have said they will not ne­go­ti­ate over the need for the na­tion to pay its bills.

Obama is likely to meet with con­gres­sion­al lead­ers this week after he re­turns from New York City, where he is ad­dress­ing the United Na­tions Gen­er­al As­sembly, White House press sec­ret­ary Jay Car­ney said Monday.

“Here’s the bot­tom line,” Car­ney said. “Con­gress needs to act re­spons­ibly in or­der to en­sure that the gov­ern­ment does not shut down. Un­for­tu­nately, the House ac­ted ir­re­spons­ibly as an open­ing salvo in this en­gage­ment by passing a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion that has no chance of be­com­ing law. And now we’ll have to see how this plays out.”

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