Senate votes 100-0 to move ahead on debate over Obamacare

WASHINGTON — The Senate easily overcame Wednesday’s first hurdle to a fizzling GOP strategy to strip funding for President Obama’s healthcare law in exchange for keeping the government running.

Top Republicans are now for a new — more modest — way to chip away at the Affordable Care Act.

Time is not on their side after Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) monopolized the floor in his lonely filibuster-like campaign. Money for routine government operations is set to run out Oct. 1, unless Congress acts.

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The rare 100-0 vote to end this first round of debate showed how eager senators were to move the bill forward.

Republicans realize that because they are in the minority in the chamber, Democrats will eventually be able to eliminate the Obamacare provision to protect the president’s signature law. Republican leaders want Cruz to wrap up his time in the limelight so the Senate can dispatch the legislation back to the House in time to give Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) ample opportunity to attach new amendments that might have a better chance at eventually ending the healthcare law.

“My own view is it would be to the advantage of our colleagues in the House, who are in the majority, to shorten the process,” said Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who has distanced himself from Cruz’s strategy. “If the House doesn’t get what we send over there until Monday, they’re in a pretty tough spot.”

Republicans in the House and Senate believe a do-over in the House could have better results, if they attach a healthcare provision that would be difficult for Democrats to oppose — such as a repeal of the new tax on medical device manufacturers that some Democrats dislike, or a delay of the individual mandate that all Americans carry health insurance in 2014.

After Republican senators convened for back-to-back closed-door strategy sessions earlier this week, many, if not most, embraced the emerging plan. “It seems to some of us the sooner you get it over to the House, the sooner they can address it,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

Cruz initially showed little interest in yielding, promising to use every procedural tool necessary to stop what others in his party viewed as inevitable.

PHOTOS: The battle over the Affordable Care Act

But after finishing is 21-hour talkathon late Wednesday morning, Cruz suggested speeding up the next key vote to Friday, rather than Saturday as scheduled. That vote is viewed as the Republicans’ last chance to stop the bill before the Democrats gut the health provision.

Cruz said he wanted to make sure Americans were tuned in to watch it. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) initially declined the offer, but conversations are expected to continue.

Under Senate rules, the chamber will now spend 30 hours in debate before the next vote, Thursday morning, to proceed to the legislation. Final passage, without the healthcare provision, would not come until Sunday evening — with hours to go before a possible shutdown.

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