Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) broke with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on Monday, revealing that he won’t filibuster legislation to fund the government in service of conservative goals to defund Obamacare.
The Republican leader’s decision is a major blow to the push by Cruz and powerful conservative activist groups, who wanted Republicans to unite and filibuster a continuing resolution until Democrats caved agreed to gut funding for the Affordable Care Act.
“Senator McConnell supports the House Republicans’ bill and will not vote to block it, since it defunds Obamacare and funds the government without increasing spending by a penny,” McConnell spokesman Don Stewart told TPM in an email Monday. “He will also vote against any amendment that attempts to add Obamacare funding back into the House Republicans’ bill.”
The decision clears a path for Democrats to pass a continuing resolution that funds Obamacare. Procedurally, Democrats need 60 votes (they have 54 members) to advance the House-passed continuing resolution. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) can strike the language defunding Obamacare with 51 votes, which frees up McConnell and every other Republican to vote against such an amendment. This way he never has to actually vote to fund Obamacare but doesn’t force a shutdown over an unachievable goal.
“If and when the Majority Leader goes down that path,” Stewart said, “Washington Democrats will have to decide — without hiding behind a procedural vote — whether or not to split with their leadership and join Republicans and their constituents in opposing the re-insertion of Obamacare funding into the House-passed bill.”
The move also signals how badly McConnell wants to avoid a government shutdown, which observers across the political spectrum agree would harm the GOP. He’s facing re-election in 2014 and fending off a conservative challenger, Matt Bevin, who is demanding he get tougher on Obamacare. A shutdown would also harm McConnell’s ultimate goal of becoming majority leader after the mid-term elections.