Senators on Friday sent legislation back to the House that would keep the government's doors open until Nov. 15. Majority Democrats removed a provision to defund the Affordable Care Act, also called "Obamacare."
The Senate's 54-44 vote was strictly along party lines in favor of the bill, which would prevent a shutdown of nonessential government services.
That followed a 79-19 vote to cut off a filibuster by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that exposed a rift among Republicans eager to prevent a shutdown and those, like Cruz, who seem willing to risk one over the health overhaul.
All 52 Democrats, two independents and 25 of 44 Republicans voted in favor. That included Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and most of the GOP leadership.
Cruz was trying to rally House conservatives to continue the battle over heath care. He was urging them to reject efforts by Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other GOP leaders to offer scaled-back assaults on the law such as repealing a tax on medical devices as the House response.
Some conservatives were taking their cues from Cruz rather than party leaders such as Boehner hoping to avoid a shutdown. Closing down the government could weaken Republicans heading into an even more important battle later in October over allowing the government to borrow more money.
"We now move on to the next stage of this battle," Cruz said after the Senate vote. He told reporters he had had numerous conversations with fellow conservatives in recent days.
"I am confident the House of Representatives will continue to stand its ground, continue to listen to the American people and ... stop this train wreck, this nightmare that is Obamacare," he said.
GOP leaders had yet to announce a plan heading into an emergency meeting Saturday of House Republicans. A vote on the as-yet-unwritten measure seemed most likely on Sunday, leaving little time for the Senate to respond on Monday.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., warned that the Senate will not accept any House measure that contains provisions opposed by Democrats.
He knows better than anyone that any single senator could slow down the Senate's ability to return yet another version to the House.
"This is it. Time is gone," Reid said. Republicans "should think very carefully about their next steps. Any bill that continues to play political games will force a government shutdown."
Obama blamed conservative Republicans for the crisis.
"Republicans in the House have been more concerned with appeasing an extreme faction of their party than working to pass a budget that creates new jobs or strengthens the middle class," the president said in his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday.
If lawmakers miss the deadline, hundreds of thousands of nonessential federal workers would have to stay home on Tuesday.
Critical services such patrolling the borders, inspecting meat and controlling air traffic would continue. Social Security benefits would be sent and the Medicare and Medicaid health care programs for the elderly and poor would continue to pay doctors and hospitals.
The new health insurance exchanges would open Tuesday, a development that's lent urgency to the drive to use a normally routine stopgap spending bill to gut implementation of the law.
Associated Press writer Josh Lederman contributed to this report.
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