By Alexander Bolton - 09/27/13 09:30 AM EDT
The Senate will vote Friday on legislation to keep the government funded, setting up a weekend showdown with the House and tough choices for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has scheduled a series of four votes beginning at 12:30 p.m., one of which would strip language defunding ObamaCare from the stopgap spending measure.
Senate aides said senators would leave town for the weekend but remain on alert to return to Washington on short notice in case the House acts quickly.
One Democratic aide said the House would probably work Saturday and Sunday, dimming the chances of the Senate returning before Monday.
Boehner told reporters Thursday the House is not likely to approve the stripped-down Senate bill. “I don’t see that happening,” he said.
Reid warned Thursday the Senate would not have enough time to approve any changes made by House Republicans over the weekend. He declared he would not hold any last-minute negotiations with Boehner to avert a shutdown.
“Send us a clean [continuing resolution], a clean debt ceiling [bill]. That’s the path forward. There’s no need for conversations. We’ve spoken loudly and clearly, and we have the support of the president of the United States,” Reid told reporters.
Boehner has several choices, none of them easy.
He could bring the Senate bill to the floor and pass it with centrist Republican and Democratic votes, averting a shutdown.
But this seems unlikely, since Boehner would face a backlash from Tea Party Republicans and conservative groups who have been flooding Congress with phone calls to stop ObamaCare before its insurance exchanges open for business Tuesday.
Boehner could amend the Senate bill, either by reinserting language to defund ObamaCare or adding a provision to delay its implementation. If he takes that route, a shutdown is likely, since the White House and Senate Democrats have vowed to reject such measures.
He could add a less ambitious change, such as the repeal of the medical device tax or the elimination of federal subsidies for congressional and White House staff entering the health insurance exchanges.
Senate Democrats would reject these additions as well, and they would not satisfy many conservatives who are pushing for defunding of the law.
Boehner could persuade the House Republican conference to pass a one- or two-week extension of government funding to give Congress more time to negotiate. Several Senate Republicans picked this Wednesday as the most likely scenario.
A Senate Democratic aide, however, said even this could not pass the upper chamber in a single day. “We wouldn’t have enough time to process it,” the aide said. “Ted Cruz wouldn’t agree to it.” The aide argued that Sen. Cruz (R-Texas) would be agreeing to fund the Affordable Care Act if he accepted even a one-week continuing resolution.
Cruz gave a 21-hour floor speech this week to protest ObamaCare, and along with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), objected to a request to finish the Senate bill Thursday evening.
Republican senators have fumed behind the scenes at Cruz and Lee, and on Thursday, those tensions broke into public view when Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) delivered a pointed rebuke to Cruz and Lee, whom he accused of playing to the cameras in their effort to prolong the debate.
Senate aides said the likelihood of a government shutdown soared Thursday afternoon once it became apparent that Boehner lacked the votes to move legislation increasing the debt-limit, which included a one-year delay of ObamaCare and a laundry list of other GOP priorities.
Senate sources thought there was a good chance Boehner could persuade his colleagues to vote for a clean stopgap if they were eager to use the debt ceiling bill as the vehicle to battle over healthcare reform. “It looks like they want to have that fight with the CR [continuing resolution],” said a Democratic aide.
Senators have begun to look ahead to the debate in the House as many expect Reid’s amended version of the resolution to pass with only Democratic support once a large bipartisan majority votes to end debate.
Because the resolution’s funding level exceeds the limit set by the Budget Control Act, the Senate would also vote to waive a budget point of order, which requires a 60-vote threshold.
The votes to amend it after cloture and send it back to the House require simple majorities.