Senate conservatives urge filibuster of bill defunding ObamaCare

Conservative Senate Republicans say they are prepared to filibuster the House-passed bill to fund the government if that’s what it takes to stop ObamaCare.

Most Republican senators support the House bill, but if they vote to end debate on the legislation, it could let Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) restore funding for the Affordable Care Act with 51 votes.

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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), one of the leaders of the effort to defund ObamaCare, said Friday that Senate Republicans should block Reid from using “procedural gimmicks” to carve up the House bill. 

“If Reid pursues this plan — if he insists on using a 50-vote threshold to fund ObamaCare with a partisan vote of only Democrats — then I hope that every Senate Republican will stand together and oppose cloture on the bill in order to keep the House bill intact and not let Harry Reid add ObamaCare funding back in,” Cruz said in a statement.

Sen. Mike Lee, a conservative Republican from Utah, says Republicans should not let the House bill proceed to a final vote if Reid schedules an amendment to strike the House-crafted language defunding ObamaCare.

“If we know what Sen. Reid’s strategy is, and we know that he’s going to force the vote on the amendment post cloture, I think anyone can see that the strategy is on our part,” said Brian Phillips, a spokesman for Lee. “If we want to prevent him from stripping out the defund language, the strategy on our part would be to block cloture to end debate.”

Other conservatives have joined the call for Senate Republicans to filibuster the House bill defunding the Affordable Care Act.

“If 41 Republicans stand strong and oppose cloture, they can defeat Reid’s plan to fund ObamaCare,” said Matt Hoskins, executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund. “However, if Republicans waffle and vote for cloture, it will grease the skids for Reid’s plan to defund ObamaCare.”

Republicans who have been skeptical about threatening a government shutdown to gain leverage in the fight over the healthcare law say they support the House legislation.
 
“I support the House-passed bill to Defund Obamacare,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) tweeted Friday afternoon.

One big question heading into next week is whether Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) will use all the procedural tactics available to prevent Reid from setting up an amendment to strip the House language on ObamaCare.

McConnell did not release a statement on the House bill, but a spokesman said “he supports the House effort.”

Hoskins on Friday criticized McConnell for not pledging to protect the House bill from changes in the Senate.

“This is an embarrassing lack of leadership,” he said. “Where’s the leadership? At least he could pretend to support conservative principles.”

The Senate Conservatives Fund recently spent $340,000 on a television ad in Kentucky criticizing McConnell for not explicitly endorsing a plan to threaten a government shutdown unless the Affordable Care Act loses funding.

Senators and aides say Reid’s most likely path is to bring the House legislation to the Senate floor and hold two votes to end debate on the measure, setting up final passage.

Reid is expected to arrange the votes in a way that allows the bill to clear two 60-vote hurdles while the legislation still includes legislation to defund ObamaCare.

Under this scenario, Reid would lay the groundwork for stripping the ObamaCare language before the Senate votes to end debate on the underlying bill.

Once Republicans vote to end debate, the Senate could then consider an amendment to remove the ObamaCare language. This amendment would only need 51 votes to pass. Final passage would also need a mere simple majority.

Senators coalesced around this plan Thursday because it would allow Reid to avoid a government shutdown without overtly relying on Republican votes to remove the provision to defund ObamaCare.

A large contingent of Senate Republicans privately support removing the sections defunding ObamaCare because they want to avoid an impasse that leads to a government shutdown.

A recent CNN poll shows that 51 percent of the public would blame congressional Republicans in the event of a shutdown while only 33 percent would point the finger at President Obama.