Senate approves measure to keep federal government operating

Greg Nash

The Senate voted along party lines Friday to pass a stopgap spending measure lasting until Nov. 15 after removing controversial language to defund ObamaCare.

The 54-44 vote puts the Senate on a collision course with the House, where Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said the stripped-down bill will not reach the floor.

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House conservatives on Friday rallied around a proposal to attach a one-year delay of the healthcare law and send it back to the Senate. Senate Democrats say this will be rejected and result in a government shutdown.

If Congress does not resolve the impasse by Tuesday, funding will expire and many government services will be limited.

Final passage of the Senate bill was assured after 25 Republicans joined 54 Democrats in voting to end debate on the measure and set up a final vote. Final passage only required a simple majority.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pleaded Friday for House Republicans to accept the measure to avoid shuttering government next week.

“I urge sensible Republicans in the House of Representatives to … let House Democrats vote,” he said. “Pass a clean bill to avert a shutdown. Defy the anarchists. Respect the rule of law. And help the Senate govern.”

The legislation funds government operations for 45 days and omits the House-passed language prioritizing debt payments if Congress fails to increase the nation’s borrowing authority.

It continues spending levels at an annualized rate of $986.3 billion, which some Senate Republicans argued would exceed the 2011 Budget Control Act.

The Senate voted to waive a budgetary objection against the bill after proponents of the measure argued that the budget law and the automatic cuts known as sequestration would keep total fiscal year 2014 funding at $967 billion.

The biggest question ahead of the Friday votes was how many Republicans would side with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who earlier in the week compared Republican leaders to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain for not working more aggressively to defund ObamaCare.

Cruz urged his colleagues to block the legislation to prevent Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) from scheduling a simple-majority vote on an amendment to rewrite it.

Republican leaders, however, said the bill should advance because at the time of the vote to limit debate it included language to defund ObamaCare.

Most Republicans sided with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who argued the unified Republican vote against final passage shows the party is firmly committed to repealing the healthcare law.

Republicans grew increasingly frustrated with Cruz as the debate ground on.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) scolded Cruz for comparing GOP leaders’ tactics in the healthcare fight to Britain’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.

Only 18 Republicans voted with Cruz, including two possible 2016 presidential contenders, Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Rand Paul (Ky.).

McConnell sought to downplay divisions in his conference by stressing the unified vote against final passage.

“And it all adds up to one thing: a law in trouble. A law that needs to be repealed. That’s the goal of every member on this side. We’re united on the need to repeal ObamaCare. We want to replace it with sensible, bipartisan reforms that will actually work,” he said before the vote.

Conservative groups lobbied senators vigorously throughout the week to block the bill. Tea Party Patriots estimated that Senate offices received as many as 10,000 calls a day.

Activists criticized McConnell and other leaders for not siding with Cruz.

“The determination of conservative heroes like Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee to wage the fight to defund ObamaCare in the Senate is inspiring,” Brent Bozell, chairman of ForAmerica, said in a statement.

“Unfortunately the Republican ‘leadership’ declined to show the same courage and keep their promises to the American people and allowed Democrats to restore funding for ObamaCare.”

Ramsey Cox contributed to this report.