WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate voted 100-0 Wednesday to clear a key procedural hurdle toward passing a stopgap funding bill to avert a government shutdown in six days. The vote occurred after a dramatic overnight floor speech by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and his allies who waged a filibuster-styled effort in opposition to President Obama's health care law.
This afternoon's vote cleared the way to begin debate on a House-passed stopgap spending bill that includes language to defund the Affordable Care Act. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is expected to strip that provision fom the bill and return to the House later this week a clean stopgap measure to keep the government funded through Nov. 15.
"Every hour we delay here, we move closer to shutting down our government," Reid said after the vote.
The overwhelming support for the procedural vote made clear that the votes do not exist in Congress to defund the law, but Cruz's filibuster-style speech drew praise from colleagues and opponents of the law. Cruz held the floor for more than 21 hours, yielding only for questions from supportive Republican senators. In the end, even Cruz voted to end debate.
"Americans owe Sen. Ted Cruz a debt of gratitude for standing on principle in the fight to stop 'Obamacare,'" the conservative anti-tax Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said. "The Washington elite is in complete denial, but here are the facts: Obamacare is a disaster, it is one of the biggest assaults on individual liberty in history, it is stifling economic growth, and it will not work."
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, will have three options once the Senate volleys back the spending bill: reject it, approve it or amend it and send it back to the Senate with little more than 24 hours before a shutdown takes place. The House canceled a scheduled recess this week to return to Washington today. Boehner has not said how the House will respond.
Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have advocated for attaching to the spending bill a repeal of the 2.3% tax on medical devices enacted as part of the ACA to help pay for its implementation. A non-binding amendment to the Senate budget resolution this year drew 79 votes in support of repealing the tax.
Congress is expected to be in session through the weekend to try to resolve the impasse.
There is broad GOP opposition to the health care law, and congressional Republicans are using two impending budget votes to attempt to dismantle Obamacare, which begins open enrollment on Oct. 1. However, President Obama has vowed to veto any legislation that delays or defunds his signature domestic achievement, and his Democratic allies in the Senate stand to reject any bill the House sends over to that end.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew reminded Congress on Wednesday that the second budget battle looms in just three weeks, advising lawmakers the United States will hit its borrowing limit no later than Oct. 17.
Raising the debt ceiling requires a vote of congressional approval. Failing to raise the debt ceiling would result in the U.S. defaulting on its debt payments for the first time in history.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama will likely talk with congressional leaders in the days ahead, but no specific meeting has been set.
"It would be irresponsible not to fund the essential functions of government out of ideological pique," Carney said.
While Obama is willing to discuss ways to forge a new spending plan, Carney repeated that the president would not negotiate over the debt ceiling; raising that limit will enable the government to pay bills in has already incurred, the spokesman said.
Otherwise, he said, the government will default on debts, damaging the national and global economy.
"The debt ceiling must be raised," Carney said. "This cannot and should not be a matter of negotiation."
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough will go to Capitol Hill later today to meet with House Democrats on the budget.
House GOP leaders are preparing a legislative package tied to a debt ceiling that could get a vote as early as next week. House Republicans will meet Thursday morning where leadership will brief their rank-and-file morning on their proposed debt ceiling package.
In exchange for suspending the debt ceiling through 2014 and past the midterm elections, Republicans are seeking a one-year delay in the opening of the requirement that uninsured people buy health insurance through a series of state health care exchanges. They are scheduled to go online Oct. 1. Other parts of the law have been in effect since 2010.
In addition, Republican leaders are expected to include in the package instructions for an overhaul of the federal tax code, authorization of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline, as well as a list of popular GOP economic provisions to reduce environmental and small business regulations, among others. The package is also expected to include budget savings achieved through changes in mandatory Medicare spending and reductions in the Dodd Frank financial overhaul law.
Obama and congressional Democrats have vowed not to negotiate on the debt ceiling, but Republicans believe they hold some leverage in the budget debate because of the keen interest among leading Democrats — including Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski and Reid — to reach an agreement to turn off the unpopular, across-the-board budget cuts known as the sequester, for up to two years.