Senate sees way forward on funding bill

Greg Nash

Senators have identified a legislative strategy to fund the federal government without forcing Republicans to vote against language to defund ObamaCare.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has not confirmed what procedural path he will choose but colleagues say he is likely to use an “amendment to strike” to kill the House-originated language to defund the new healthcare law while keeping the government funded.

Senate sources say Reid is likely to bring the House continuing resolution, which includes language to defund ObamaCare and to prioritize debt payments if the nation hits its debt limit, to the Senate floor.

Reid’s first move would be to schedule a vote to end debate on proceeding to the House continuing resolution. This would require 60 votes. Republican senators would vote to proceed to the bill because it would including the language to defund ObamaCare.

Then he would fill the amendment tree, defining what amendments could be considered in relation to the House legislation.

Reid would be sure that one of the pending amendments is a so-called “amendment to strike,” which would allow him schedule a future vote on stripping the language defunding ObamaCare and prioritizing debt payments.

A Senate Democratic aide characterized the amendment to strike as a substitute amendment that would allow Reid to replace the House language with a “clean” proposal to fund the government beyond September.

“It would be a substitute amendment,” the aide said. “There’s just a bunch of stuff we’d want to get rid of.”

Then Reid would schedule a vote to end debate on the House continuing resolution and proceed to final passage. This vote also requires 60 votes.

Republicans are expected to support this cloture vote because the legislation would still include language to defund ObamaCare.

“It doesn’t seem to make much sense to vote 'no' on a bill that contains the defund-ObamaCare provision,” said Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (Texas). “I don’t know anybody in our conference who’s for ObamaCare, so I think they’d vote 'yes' to get on a bill to defund it.”

After this second cloture vote has passed, the pending amendments can be approved with a simple majority vote. At this point, Reid could strike the language defunding ObamaCare and prioritizing debt payments without having to rely on Republican votes. He could strike the language with Democratic votes alone.

“If we get the opportunity, we’ll certainly move to strike and I expect we’ll get the 51 votes we need,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the third-ranking member of the Democratic leadership. “At least they’re letting us vote to strike. If they didn’t, they’d be bringing the government down on their own.”

The Senate would then proceed to vote on final passage of a “clean” continuing resolution to keep the government funded beyond the end of September.

“Since you can amend a bill post-cloture, as long as it’s germane, with only a simple majority, it would seem to me that he has a way to make this work as he wishes,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said.

Corker predicted Republicans would vote for both motions to end debate on the House resolution because at the moments of consideration it will include language to defund ObamaCare.

Reid will not strip the defunding language until after he has passed the 60-vote cloture hurdle. The key move is to make sure an amendment to change the language is pending before the final vote to end debate.

“I can’t imagine why any Senate Republican would vote to block cloture or block motion to proceed on a bill they support,” Corker said. “I’m assuming that what the House sends over is what we support.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a driving force behind the effort to use a potential government shutdown to defund ObamaCare, anticipated earlier this week that Reid would find a way to rework the House bill.

He said it will be up to the House to block any government funding measure that does not defund the healthcare law.

“Harry Reid will no doubt try to strip the defund language from the continuing resolution, and right now he likely has the votes to do so,” Cruz said in a statement. “At that point, House Republicans must stand firm, hold their ground, and continue to listen to the American people.”

--This report was updated at 3:58 p.m.