Senate May Come Within 48 Hours Of Government Shutdown

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The Senate could take all week to complete legislation to keep the government open beyond Sept. 30, bringing the country within 48 hours of a shutdown by the time the bill is sent back to the House.

“If [Republicans] use all their procedural devices at their disposal, [it would take] until Sunday, but not later,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Monday during an appearance MSNBC.

Democratic leaders are looking for Republican consent on a way forward with amendments. If they get it, the process could move a lot faster. But that’s far from certain. Conservative senators are pushing hard to defund Obamacare, even at the cost of a government shutdown. Democrats have ruled out any bill that would defund Obamacare. All that puts Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who is up for re-election, in a tight spot as he faces pressure from his GOP challenger to embrace the conservative position.The arcane rules of the chamber provide the minority party significant power to stall. If Republicans use all the delay tactics available to them the Senate may not complete the continuing resolution until Sunday, Democratic leaders and aides say. That would send the bill back to the House less than two days before a shutdown.

The House passed a continuing resolution (CR) on Friday that strips funding to implement Obamacare. Senate Democrats intend to restore that funding. But in the process of passing their version, they’ll have to jump through procedural hoops and grant GOP senators opportunities for hours upon hours of delay, which conservative senators who insist on keeping the Obamacare funding have incentive to use.

In procedural terms, Rule 22 of the Senate guarantees 30 hours of debate after cloture, and several cloture motions are required. Republicans are unlikely to yield their time because ultraconservatives, led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), have committed to using every tactic at their disposal to gum up the works unless Democrats fold on Obamacare.

One reason Democratic leaders hope to get consent is many Republican senators want to avoid a shutdown and are on record opposing conservatives’ strategy to use the must-pass continuing resolution as leverage to defund the health care reform law.

If they don’t get consent, here’s what Senate Democratic leaders currently plan on doing: they’ll file cloture on the motion to proceed to the House’s continuing resolution. The vote on the motion to proceed probably comes Wednesday, which will mean 30 hours of debate before they can proceed. It won’t be until Friday when they can bring up a “motion to strike” the language defunding Obamacare (which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) intends to do at a 51-vote threshold). And then another motion before they can proceed to final passage. That brings the Senate into Sunday before they can wrap it up.

The timing would put pressure on Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to bring up the Senate legislation, given the GOP’s virtually impossible odds of actually defunding Obamacare, lest he risk being blamed for the first government shutdown since 1996. Such a move would anger many House Republicans, but the bill could pass with Democratic votes.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.
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