Senate Passes Stopgap Bill While House Lacks Clear PlanKathleen Hunter, Michael C. Bender and Roxana Tiron
The U.S. Senate voted to finance the government through Nov. 15 after removing language to choke off funding for the health care law, putting pressure on the House to avoid a federal shutdown set to start Oct. 1.
The chamber, on a party-line vote of 54-44, today passed the spending measure and sent it back to the House, after stripping a provision backed by Republicans to defund President Barack Obama’s signature health-care law.
“The country’s not going to be extorted,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said after the vote, warning that the government would close if the U.S. House didn’t accept the Senate’s bill. “This is no way to govern, and it has to end.”
The Senate vote sets up a weekend of negotiating and brinkmanship that could continue until spending authority expires on Sept. 30. House Republicans are insisting that the short-term spending bill include limits on the health-care law’s reach, a demand that Democrats say they won’t accept.
House Republican leaders haven’t identified their next move, and they’ll meet at noon tomorrow to discuss strategy for the spending bill, including a potential vote this weekend.
“We can make a reasonable proposal that’s consistent where a majority of Americans are, and I mean that in all seriousness, not just a partisan sense,” said Representative James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican. “I don’t hear any eagerness to say, ‘gosh wouldn’t it be fun to have a shutdown.’ No one is of that flippant of an attitude. People want to resolve this.”
Concerns that the budget impasse will hurt economic growth helped push the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index to its first weekly decline since August. That index fell 0.5 percent to 1,690.23 at 2:28 p.m. in New York while the rate on 10-year Treasury notes dropped 2.9 basis points to 2.62 percent.
The Republican Party is divided over how far to push its anti-Obamacare demands, with a group of House Republican newcomers and Texas Senator Ted Cruz urging a tougher fight.
Options in the House include adding a one-year delay of the mandate that uninsured individuals buy health coverage, approval of TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline, and eliminating health-insurance subsidies for members of Congress, according to lawmakers and a congressional aide who asked not to be identified because decisions aren’t final.
“I don’t think there is any one strategy that works the best,” Representative Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, said in an interview. “What we’ve got to do is use every tool that we’ve got legislatively to get to our ultimate goal.”
House Republicans will get little if any help from Democrats, said Representative Xavier Becerra of California, chairman of the Democratic caucus.
“We want a clean budget vote,” Becerra told reporters today. “That’s all Democrats are saying.”
That partisan dynamic in the House is prompting Republican leaders to look for an approach that they can pass with Republican votes alone. The party has a 232-200 majority, meaning any group of 16 members can make demands that thwart plans with broad support.
“The unthinkable a week ago is very close today,” said Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat. “And why? Because the House Republican caucus is tied in a knot.”
Schumer called on House Speaker John Boehner to show “courage” and pass a clean spending bill with Democratic votes.
“Just step up to the plate and do it,” Schumer said. “He’s not going to lose his speakership. He’s not going to lose his election. Please - enough already.”
Senate Democrats easily cleared a hurdle to cut off debate, which required the support of 60 senators. The chamber voted 79-19 to proceed to the measure. All 19 “no” votes were from Republicans, including Ted Cruz of Texas, Kentucky’s Rand Paul and Florida’s Marco Rubio, three potential 2016 presidential aspirants.
Most Senate Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, rejected calls from Cruz to oppose cutting off debate. Cruz, who staged an almost 22-hour speech this week to protest the health-care law, said halting debate would pave the way for Democrats to restore funding.
Cruz told reporters after the vote that he hoped his talk-a-thon “had a positive impact on framing the issue for the American people and mobilizing and energizing those who are hurting under Obamacare to speak out and have their voices heard in Washington.”
In a statement, he said he hoped Senate Republicans would “rise to the challenge” when the House sends back the bill.
Before the vote, McConnell said he would support a one-year delay of the law and called on Democratic senators to join with Republicans.
“Let’s work together to actually do it,” he said. “The American people want this law repealed. Republicans want this law repealed.”
In a letter to lawmakers today, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups urged Congress to keep the government open and raise the debt limit, and then “return to work on these other vital issues,” including entitlement spending.
Following the short-term budget debate will be what Boehner promised would be a “whale of a fight” on raising the debt limit. The government won’t be able to pay all its bills by the end of October without an increase, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Some House Republicans objected to Boehner’s proposal this week to attach a debt limit increase to a list of party priorities, instead choosing to focus on the spending bill.
Obama stepped into the fray today, tapping his e-mail list of tens of thousands of supporters and urging them put pressure on Boehner to pass a budget and warning that the economy may be in peril if they don’t.
“They refuse to pass a budget unless I let them sabotage Obamacare, something they know is not going to happen,” Obama said in a “Dear Friend” message distributed by Washington-based Organizing for Action. “Now, we’re left with only four days before a government shutdown.”
He accused a “group of far-right Republicans” of being “reckless and irresponsible” in delaying passage of a budget because they are bent on “making an ideological point.”
“I want to make sure that message gets through,” Obama said in the appeal. “Add your voice -- remind Speaker Boehner that Congress has a job to do.”