Senate defies Cruz, strips language defunding ObamaCare

Greg Nash

The Senate on Friday voted to strip language defunding ObamaCare from a stopgap spending measure on Friday after a bipartisan vote to proceed with the measure.

The Senate voted on party lines to remove the ObamaCare language, in a 54-44 vote. GOP Sens. Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.) were absent for the vote. 

The ObamaCare vote came after the Senate voted to proceed in a 79-19 vote, with 25 Republicans voting in favor of moving forward and 19 voting against.

The GOP votes represented a rejection of Sen. Ted Cruz’s arguments that Republicans would be helping Democrats in moving the bill forward.

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A number of the Texas Republican’s colleagues said it was better to get the bill back to the House to give the lower chamber more time to deliver an alternative funding measure.

The Senate is now voting on approving the bill. That vote will succeed, placing the ball in the House's court. 

It’s unclear what the House will do next. 

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has not developed a clear plan, and the House GOP Conference plans to meet on Saturday to consider its options.

The government will shut down on Tuesday without a new funding measure.

Cruz, backed by Tea Party groups, lobbied his colleagues throughout the week to block the bill in order to prevent Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) from removing the ObamaCare provisions.

In the end, 19 of Cruz's colleagues backed him: GOP Sens. Jerry Moran (Kan.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Richard Shelby (Ala.), Jame Risch (Idaho), James Inhofe (Okla.), Rob Portman (Ohio), Jeff Sessions (Ala.), David Vitter (La.), Rand Paul (Ky.), Mike Lee (Utah), Ted Cruz (Texas), Mike Crapo (Idaho), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Deb Fischer (Neb.), Pat Roberts (Kan.), Tim Scott (S.C.), Dean Heller (Nev.), Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Pat Toomey (Pa.).

Senate GOP leaders did not want to be blamed for quashing a bill necessary to avert a government shutdown on Tuesday, when funding is scheduled to expire. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who voted to advance the bill, argued earlier in the week that the legislation deserved to advance to a final vote because, as initially written, it would halt the healthcare law’s implementation.

“Invoking cloture on a bill that defunds ObamaCare, doesn’t raise taxes and respects the Budget Control Act, it strikes me as a no-brainer,” McConnell told reporters.

McConnell emphasized Friday morning that the Senate GOP Conference is unified in its desire to repeal the law, even if its members disagree over tactics.

Cruz and other Tea Party-affiliated conservatives argued that by agreeing to limit debate, Republicans would give Reid the power to radically rewrite the bill and pass it with simple majority votes.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), one of Cruz’s allies, said that by voting to end debate and set up a final vote, Republicans would empower Reid to gut the House-passed resolution.

“Everyone knows that the vote we’re about to take — cloture on the House-passed continued resolution — is essentially a vote to allow Democrats to gut the House bill,” Lee said. “That’s why every Senate Democrat is supporting it.”

Cruz tried to rally his Republican colleagues by speaking on the floor for more than 21 hours over Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning.

The impassioned effort fired up conservative activists, who flooded Senate offices with calls and tied up phone lines but gained little traction with GOP senators, who grew increasingly irritated with Cruz as the week wore on.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) scolded Cruz for comparing GOP leaders’ stance on defunding ObamaCare to former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s effort to appease Adolf Hitler.

“I think it’s wrong and I think it’s a disservice to those who stood up and shouted at the top of their lungs that we cannot appease and that we must act,” he said.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) on Thursday rebuked Cruz for delaying the votes until Friday morning, accusing him of playing to the C-SPAN cameras and giving the House less time to respond.

Reid in a floor speech on Friday criticized Cruz for holding up the Senate’s work.

“Every minute that passes is a minute we get closer to a government shutdown,” Reid said. “But a bad day for government is a good day for the anarchists among us. ... So the question is, can we overcome the modern day anarchist?”

The Senate also rejected a budget point of order against the bill in a 68-30 vote. 

Sessions, the senior Republican on the Budget Committee, raised the point of order, saying the bill exceeds the 2011 Budget Control Act by continuing the current spending level at the annualized rate of $986.3 billion.

— Ramsey Cox contributed to this story. 

This story was updated at 1:21 p.m.