- The Washington Times
Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Republican rift over Obamacare spilled onto the Senate floor Thursday during an ugly debate in which Sen. Ted Cruz questioned a colleague’s knowledge of Senate rules and Sen. Bob Corker retorted that Mr. Cruz was putting his political ambitions ahead of his party and the country.

The nasty spat underscored the high stakes of a government shutdown and the level of confusion among Republicans as they spar over how far they are willing to go to stop major parts of Obamacare from taking effect next week.

All sides are racing a midnight Monday deadline to pass a spending bill and have a major debt deadline looming weeks later, but Thursday passed with little more than tough talk and line-drawing.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he won’t allow any conditions to be attached to a stopgap spending bill or a debt-limit bill. House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said he won’t pass either bill without conditions.

“I do not see that happening,” Mr. Boehner said after meeting with his colleagues behind closed doors.

The lack of a middle ground left both men staring at the growing threat of a government shutdown next week.

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As of late Thursday, the legislative situation was complex: The House has passed a bill that funds the government through Dec. 15 but withholds money for the Affordable Care Act. The Senate is poised to pass its own version Friday after changing the government funding date to Nov. 15 and adding back the money for Obamacare. That would send the bill back to the House, where Republican leaders would try again.

Senate Democrats and most Republicans wanted to move their vote to Thursday, saying that accelerating the process would give House Republicans more time to act.

But Mr. Cruz, Texas Republican, and Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, objected. They insisted that the votes wait for Friday instead. That ignited the bitter exchange on the Senate floor.

Mr. Corker, going head-to-head with Mr. Cruz on the Senate floor, said his Texas colleague was more interested in having people watch him speak than in getting a good deal for the country.

“They want people around the world to watch maybe them and others on the Senate floor. And that is taking priority over getting legislation back to the House so they can take action before the country’s government shuts down,” the Tennessee Republican said.

Mr. Cruz is trying to rally his colleagues to unite behind his call for a cloture vote Friday, saying that if they block the bill, Democrats will be forced to cave and remove the health care funding.

“I don’t think the American people are confused,” Mr. Cruz said.

Democrats watched the Republican infighting with glee but sided with Mr. Corker.

“This is an effort to stall,” Mr. Reid told Mr. Cruz and Mr. Lee, accusing them of “some kind of subterfuge to close the government.”

House Republicans have said they won’t begin to write a counteroffer until the Senate passes a bill, which is why the timing of a Senate vote matters.

Adding to the drama is a silence between Mr. Reid and Mr. Boehner, who haven’t spoken for days.

Mr. Reid told reporters that he doesn’t see any need to talk because Senate Democrats have made it clear that they will not negotiate and will accept nothing but a “clean” continuing resolution and debt ceiling deal.

“There’s no need for conversation. We’ve spoken loudly and clearly and we have the support of the president,” Mr. Reid said.

Mr. Boehner, though, was just as adamant that conditions must be attached to any final bill. He said a “clean” continuing resolution, or “CR” in Capitol Hill-speak, cannot clear the House.

But there was one area of agreement — House Republicans said they wanted the Senate to vote sooner rather than later.

“I want to see the CR matter completed as quickly as we can to get on then with the debt ceiling because the time is running out, so we’ve got two major time deadlines we’re struggling with here,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, Kentucky Republican. “It’s important to get the CR over with as soon as we can.”

Despite Mr. Boehner’s insistence that a clean continuing resolution will not pass the House, one House Democrat said he thinks the Republicans are warming to the idea.

“I feel like the appetite is rising to accept the Senate CR quickly when it gets over here,” Rep. Robert E. Andrews, New Jersey Democrat, told reporters Thursday afternoon.

Mr. Andrews said that the “mature reality” is that nothing but the Senate continuing resolution will be able to get the 218 votes required to pass the House.

He also said Republicans can return to their constituents and say they tried their best to defund Obamacare and may get another opportunity in the fight over raising the debt limit.

Indeed, House Republicans are considering a list of conditions that they will attach to the debt bill, including construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, limits on malpractice lawsuits, and a one-year delay of the health care law.

“The president says, ‘I’m not going to negotiate.’ Well, I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t work that way,” Mr. Boehner said.

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