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Senate Passes Short-Term Spending Bill

Senate Passes Short-Term Spending Bill

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - September 27, 2013

With less than four days to go until a possible government shutdown, the Senate chaplain opened Friday's legislative session with a timely prayer: "Lord, deliver us from governing by crisis …"

On a party-line 54-44 vote several hours later, the Senate passed a short-term spending measure that would keep the government running until Nov. 15 and retain funding for the Affordable Care Act.

But the future of the bill, which now goes back to the House, is unclear; it faces several hurdles before getting to the president’s desk.

The Republican-led House will be in session during the weekend to find a path forward that satisfies conservative demands to address the unpopular health care law -- whether by delaying it, waiving some of its exemptions, or repealing a tax that helps to fund it.

But Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Senate will not accept anything less than what they sent the House on Friday. With the bill now in the latter's hands, Democratic leaders are nervous. Asked by RCP whether the government would indeed by open on Oct. 1, Sen. Chuck Schumer didn't exactly sound optimistic: "In the past, this stuff has always been averted at the last minute. I’m less confident today, because there’s so many hardliners in their caucus." 

President Obama, reacting to the Senate-passed stopgap bill he blessed through mid-November, said he would call House Republicans’ bluff when it comes to a shutdown or default.

He repeated his willingness to consider adjustments to the 2010 ACA through the traditional legislative process, knowing that House Republicans have failed at that effort more than 40 times because the Senate is under Democratic control. “I will not negotiate over Congress' responsibility to pay the bills that have already been racked up,” Obama said Friday in a hastily scheduled statement in the White House briefing room.

Speaking about the nation’s borrowing authority, which expires by Oct. 17, the president said he hoped to break a pattern of brinksmanship with the GOP-controlled House that has recurred since 2011.

“I don't know how I can be more clear about this. Nobody gets to threaten the full faith and credit of the United States just to extract political concessions,” he said. “No one gets to hurt our economy and millions of innocent people just because there are a couple of laws that you do not like. It has not been done in the past. We're not going to start doing it now.” 

Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, responded to Obama’s remarks, saying that the House “will take action that reflects the fundamental fact that Americans don’t want a government shutdown and they don’t want the train wreck that is Obamacare. Grandstanding from the president, who refuses to even be a part of the process, won’t bring Congress any closer to a resolution.” 

The bill's passage in the Senate comes at the end of an eventful week there. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz held the floor for 21 hours from Tuesday afternoon through midday Wednesday to oppose the ACA and encourage his colleagues to block the measure from reaching its final stages -- where Reid was sure to strip out the Obamacare defunding provision through an amendment process.

Cruz annoyed his Republican colleagues who, while opposed to funding the health care law, recognize that Obama would never sign a measure that undoes his foremost legislative achievement, and thus wanted to move the spending bill quickly through the upper chamber to allow their House counterparts more time to massage its kinks to their liking.

In one of a series of procedural votes, 19 Republicans -- including Jerry Moran, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee -- voted with Cruz in opposing going forward with the bill. (No other members of the GOP leadership team did so.) All Republicans present voted against Reid's amendment to restore Obamacare funding to the bill; all Democrats and the two Democratic leaning independents voted for it.

Two Republicans, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Jeff Flake of Arizona, were absent from Friday's proceedings to attend family weddings.

Cruz acknowledged the challenge now rests with the lower chamber. “The House of Representatives is in the driver’s seat,” the Texas senator told reporters on a conference call Thursday afternoon. Cruz said he would “serve as a cheerleader in encouraging House Republicans to stand with the American people.”

That role is of no help to Boehner, who is being pressured on all sides and has to figure a way to get a bill out of his chamber and back to the Senate. Cruz told reporters he has been in contact with members there. He also said he will not support a CR returned to the Senate that doesn't defund Obamacare. 

One major problem House GOP leaders face in addressing the funding legislation is that they haven’t yet been able to convince enough members to accept a “clean” bill and take the Obamacare fight to the debt-ceiling deadline, which hits on Oct. 17.

Republican leaders, hoping to placate conservatives ahead of a continuing resolution they knew wouldn’t be welcomed, outlined a debt ceiling plan Thursday that would carry with it a delay of Obamacare and a host of other House-passed measures that have little hope of being signed into law by the president. Even some members of the leadership’s vote-counting team conceded the measure would be difficult to support because it did not include an even exchange of spending cuts for dollars of debt raised.

Complicating the procedure is that many GOP members want to beat down the health care law now, not next month, and plans to attach a repeal of a medical device tax and eliminate ACA subsidies to lawmakers and their staffs may not be enough to win their favor. House members will huddle on Saturday afternoon in the hopes of forging some kind of path forward. There has been some discussion, lawmakers say, of passing a one-week funding measure to avoid the shutdown and buy more time.

Democrats, meanwhile, are showing no signs of giving in and are pointing fingers at the opposition. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters that while Democrats stand willing to discuss the CR with Boehner, they won’t be as cooperative when it comes to the debt ceiling. (Boehner might be reluctant to accept much cooperation regardless, as any bill that passes with the help of Democrats could cost the speaker his job.)

“Don’t expect us to be helpful when it comes to the debt ceiling because we don’t see it as negotiable,” Pelosi said. 

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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