Senate Sends Shutdown Fight Back To House GOP

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The Senate passed legislation on Friday afternoon to avert a shutdown of the federal government before the fiscal year deadline, set to hit on Monday at midnight. But the battle is far from over as House Republicans are angling to reject it.

The final vote was 54 to 44 on party lines. Republicans unanimously opposed it because it didn’t defund Obamacare, the cause that has animated the party base for months. Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) did not vote.

Tensions are rising as the continuing resolution now ping-pongs back to the House, which Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has said would not accept it. “I do not see that happening,” he told reporters Thursday after a GOP conference meeting.

But his next move is a complete mystery and will determine whether or not many federal services can keep their doors open come Oct. 1. Boehner could always reverse course at the last minute and swallow the Senate bill. Or he could take up a one-week stopgap bill to delay the fight. GOP leadership aides were mum on how they would react.

“Each day that goes by, each hour that goes by, each minute that goes by, we are that much closer to a government shutdown,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). “I’ve been told that the House needs more time to work on this. … There is no reason to stall this.”The Senate legislation keeps the government funded at the current austerity level of $986.3 billion. It makes three changes to the House-passed bill: it includes funding for Obamacare; it strips out a provision to prioritize debt payments in the event of default; and it keeps the government funded until Nov. 15, rather than Dec. 15.

Reid set it up so Republicans didn’t have to vote to fund Obamacare — the cause that’s animated the party’s base. The first vote required 60 senators to end debate on a House-passed bill, and it passed 79 to 19. The second was to waive budget points of order, passed by a margin of 68 to 30. The third was to essentially replace the House CR with the Senate Democrats’ version, passed by a vote of 54 to 44 along party lines. And then final passage.

What could have been a seamless process was marred by a quixotic push from Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) to shut down the government if Democrats didn’t agree to defund the Affordable Care Act. Many Republicans recognized that was a fool’s errand and didn’t want to risk a shutdown over it. GOP divisions spilled out onto the Senate floor Thursday. But the two senators, backed by well-funded conservative groups, persisted and have brought the federal government to the brink of a shutdown.

“A lot of Republicans, they’ve been here a long time. They are beaten down,” Cruz told Fox News on Thursday night. “They’re scared that if we stand together on this and if a government shutdown results, that Republicans will be blamed and it’s too politically risky.”

Cruz and Lee have failed. And now Boehner faces the unenviable task, again, of getting his GOP members to agree to fund the government without attaching poison pills.

A wild card in the scenario is the fact that Congress will also need to lift the debt ceiling by Oct. 17 or risk an economically catastrophic debt default. That’s an even tougher vote for House Republicans, and Boehner is dangling just about every conservative goodie imaginable before them in an attempt to stave off a shutdown now, and default later. It’s not working so far — the votes aren’t there yet as many Republicans want to dispose of the continuing resolution before moving on to the debt ceiling.

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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