Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio
By Susan Davis
WASHINGTON - The Senate is on track to approve Friday a stopgap spending bill that sets Congress up for a weekend of partisan jockeying to resolve a shutdown threat before Monday's deadline.
Simmering tensions surrounding a Republican-driven effort to defund President Obama's health care law as part of the stopgap measure spilled out on the Senate floor when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., attempted to clear the floor for a final passage vote Thursday evening.
Two Republican senators, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, objected to the request, sparking complaints from Democrats and a rebuke from a Republican colleague who accused the duo of delaying the vote for personal political gain.
"Is it more important to the senator from Texas and the senator from Utah that the people around the country watch this vote or is it more important to us that we have a good policy outcome?" said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., on the floor in an exchange with Cruz and Lee.
Corker blamed the two Republicans for delaying a vote because "y'all have sent out releases and e-mails and you want everybody to be able to watch, and it just doesn't seem to me that that's in our nation's interest."
Cruz, who led a historic filibuster-style 21-hour speech against the health care law this week, defended the delay and called on Corker and all Senate Republicans to oppose a procedural vote Friday that could clear the way to final passage. "Why is Majority Leader Harry Reid going to vote the same way you're proposing to vote?" Cruz challenged.
The Senate is on track to approve a stopgap spending bill through Nov. 15 that strips from it a House-passed provision to stop any money that would pay to implement parts of the Affordable Care Act.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, confirmed Thursday that the House will not approve the Senate version of the bill, but he has declined to say how Republicans will respond. The House will likely vote over the weekend, volleying back to the Senate another stopgap bill with roughly 24 hours before a shutdown takes place.
"I do not expect (a shutdown) to happen," Boehner said. "The American people don't want the president's health care bill, and they don't want the government to shut down. Republicans are listening."
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said if Republicans send a bill back to the Senate on Monday, a shutdown is more likely. "Make no mistake, if they send us a (spending bill) that is unclean, they are virtually shutting down the government," he said.
House Republicans are considering a number of options including shortening the length of the funding bill or re-attaching provisions to rein in the health care law, such as a repeal of a 2.3% tax on medical devices that helps pay for the law, or a provision to remove protections for members of Congress and their staff to purchase insurance under the new health care system. Reid has said the Senate can support neither.
The assault on the health care law is part of a two-pronged effort by congressional Republicans to defund or delay "Obamacare," which begins open enrollment Oct. 1 - the same day the government faces a shutdown.
House Republican leaders briefed their lawmakers Thursday morning on a separate legislative package they intend to attach to an impending vote to raise the debt ceiling. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said Wednesday the nation will reach its borrowing limit by Oct. 17.
The package would extend the debt ceiling through the 2014 midterm elections in exchange for a one-year full delay of the implementation of parts of the law set to start Oct. 1. That's when state health care exchanges, websites where uninsured Americans can shop for or buy health insurance, open. Other parts of the law, such as the ability for children under 26 to remain on their parents' health insurance or drug discounts for Medicare patients, have already been in place.
The House's plan also includes a list of popular Republican budget provisions, including instructions for an overhaul of the tax code, authorization for construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to Texas, eliminating business and environment regulations, and reductions to mandatory health care spending.
None of those is acceptable to the Senate, Reid said Thursday. White House spokesman Jay Carney called it an "extraordinary laundry list of Republican perennials," adding: "You know, the only thing I didn't see mentioned was, like, a birther bill to attach to it."
Obama and congressional Democrats have vowed not to negotiate on the debt ceiling because of the threats a default holds for the economy. But Obama negotiated on a debt ceiling increase in the summer of 2011, and Republicans believe Democrats will again. "Now, the president says, I'm not going to negotiate. Well, I'm sorry, but it just doesn't work that way," Boehner said.
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