GOP leaders face resistance after pushing to speed vote on funding

Greg Nash

Senate Republican leaders on Tuesday pressed to speed up debate on the stopgap spending bill but faced resistance from conservative senators who want more time to fight for the defunding of ObamaCare.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and others in GOP leadership are concerned that a drawn-out fight in the Senate over the government funding bill could leave Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) with little time to act before the government shuts down on Oct. 1.

“I do know that if the House doesn’t get what we send over there until Monday they are in a pretty tough spot,” McConnell told reporters.

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McConnell and other GOP leaders pushed their members to give unanimous consent to speed up debate during a meeting on Tuesday, but Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) said they were not yet ready to give back their time, sources said.

“We have a couple of members who don’t want to speed it up,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said. “I think at present the yielding back of time is not going to occur.”

Immediately after the conference meeting, Cruz took to the Senate floor promising to deliver a speech against ObamaCare funding until he was “no longer able to stand.”

Cruz is attempting to delay — for as long as possible — consideration of a continuing resolution passed last week by the House that would fund the government while stripping money for the Affordable Care Act.

But Cruz does not have the 40 GOP votes it would take to prevent the spending bill from moving forward during a cloture vote scheduled for Wednesday, senators said.

Cruz and others can delay passage of the bill, perhaps until as late as Sunday, if they force Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to progress through a series of time-consuming procedural votes.

If all the time is used up for debate, the Senate would pass a stopgap until late Sunday, leaving House Republicans with just a day to respond before the government shuts down.

McConnell and others are hoping to avoid that scenario, but will need unity in their ranks in order to achieve it.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said speeding up debate was discussed at Tuesday’s conference meeting, but “at this point there hasn’t been agreement.”

“That doesn’t mean it won’t change,” Hoeven said.

Sources said that Cruz and Lee were objecting now, but could give back some debate time if, as expected, a second cloture vote on the government funding bill fails on Friday.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) also did not rule out a deal to shorten debate, saying GOP senators were still discussing it. But he also said he did not hold hard feelings toward members who would resist that approach.

"The United States Senate is about debates on important issues. That's what we're having, and we respect each senator's right to have his or her own opinion," he said.

It was clear on Tuesday that Republicans were struggling to smooth over rifts within the party.

Asked by a reporter if Republicans were unifying, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) responded, "Um ... that's a hard call."

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) told reporters that leaders behind closed doors urged the conference to “get on the same page” talking about the faults of ObamaCare rather than disagreeing over tactics.

“People expressed their opinions openly and candidly, the kind of discussion we should have,” Hoeven said.

—Peter Schroeder contributed.

This story was first posted at 1:45 p.m. and has been updated.