WASHINGTON – Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has repeatedly rescued Republicans in their fiscal fights with the White House. But not this time. At least not yet.
The seasoned McConnell has distanced himself from tea party renegades in his party, spurning the effort by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to halt funding for the government unless President Obama ends the Affordable Care Act, the nation’s new healthcare law.
“I just don’t happen to think filibustering a bill that defunds Obamacare is the best route to defunding Obamacare,” McConnell said as the Senate opened Tuesday. “All it does is shut down the government and keep Obamacare funded. And none of us want that.”
With a week to go before the start of the new federal fiscal year, when funding is needed to keep basic government services running, Cruz has a dwindling number of Senate allies. The sometimes-polarizing new senator has ground the Senate to a halt as he runs out the clock with a filibuster.
Tea party leaders vowed this week to “melt” phone lines with activists across the nation seeking to rally senators to his side. But their political might has not swayed McConnell, even as he faces a tea party upstart in his own reelection battle next year. The top Republicans are calculating it is better not to risk having the GOP blamed for a shutdown.
Fellow Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican leader in the Senate, is also not supporting Cruz.
Cruz now must decide whether he will filibuster all night Tuesday, seizing every possible minute before Wednesday’s scheduled procedural vote. The Harvard-educated senator says he does not want to shut down the government, but hopes to prevent Democrats from reinstating the healthcare funding, which they can easily do by simple majority once the Senate clears the 60-vote threshold in procedural votes.
Under Senate rules, the first test vote is scheduled for one hour after the chamber opens Wednesday morning. But Cruz could refuse to allow the Senate to adjourn Tuesday night. Under the rules, that would automatically push the opening to 12 noon on Wednesday, with the vote set for 1 p.m.
“We are going to vote tomorrow,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in his opening remarks Tuesday. “No one can stop that.”
The longer Cruz dominates the debate in the Senate, the less time House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has to respond.
If the Senate passes the legislation with funding for the healthcare law intact, as is expected this weekend, the legislation would bounce back to the House, where Boehner would have less than 48 hours to get his often unruly GOP majority to go along.
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