Senate moves toward test vote on Obamacare

Free health fair for women to be held Saturday (Image 1)
Free health fair for women to be held Saturday (Image 1)

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Democratic-controlled Senate is on a path
toward defeating tea party attempts to dismantle President Barack
Obama's health care law, despite an overnight talkathon on the chamber's
floor led by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

The freshman Cruz and other conservative
Republicans were trying to delay a must-pass spending bill, but were
virtually sure to lose a test vote on that legislation planned for later
Wednesday.

Since Tuesday afternoon, Cruz – with occasional
remarks by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and other GOP conservatives – has
controlled the Senate floor and railed against Obamacare. By 8 a.m. EDT
Wednesday, Cruz and his allies had spoken for more than 17 hours, the
fifth longest Senate speech since precise record-keeping began in 1900.

That surpassed March's 12-hour, 52-minute speech by
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., like Cruz a tea party lawmaker and potential
2016 presidential contender, and filibusters by such Senate icons as
Huey Long of Louisiana and Robert Byrd of West Virginia.

Paul, who has questioned Cruz's tactics, gave the
admittedly tired Texan a respite Wednesday morning by joining the debate
and criticizing Obamacare.

Republican leaders and several rank-and-file GOP
lawmakers had opposed Cruz's time-consuming effort with the end of the
fiscal year looming. They fear that Speaker John Boehner and House
Republicans won't have enough time to respond to the Senate's eventual
action.

The House-passed measure is required to prevent a
government shutdown after midnight Monday and contains a tea
party-backed provision to “defund” implementation of what's come to be
known as “Obamacare”. Cruz is opposed to moving ahead on it under debate
terms choreographed by Democrats to defeat the Obamacare provision.

The mechanics of advancing the bill were
overshadowed by Cruz's filibuster, which included a reading of Dr.
Seuss' “Green Eggs and Ham” to his daughters back home in Texas.

“When Americans tried it, they discovered they did
not like green eggs and ham and they did not like Obamacare either,”
Cruz said. “They did not like Obamacare in a box, with a fox, in a house
or with a mouse. It is not working.”

Cruz's effort doesn't have a chance to succeed,
however, both because Senate rules are working against him and because
many of his GOP colleagues think his quixotic effort combines poor
strategy with political grandstanding at the expense of other
Republicans. Some of Cruz's leading allies include organizations like
the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Club for Growth that frequently
give financial help to conservatives challenging more moderate
Republicans in primaries.

At issue is a temporary spending bill required to
keep the government fully open after the Oct. 1 start of the new budget
year. Hard-charging conservatives like Cruz see the measure as an
opportunity to use a must-pass measure to try to derail Obama's
signature health care law.

Under pressure from Cruz and tea party activists,
House GOP leaders added the anti-Obamacare language to the funding
measure despite fears it could spark a partial government shutdown that
could hurt Republicans in the run-up to midterm elections next year –
just as GOP-driven government shutdowns in 1995-96 help revive the
political fortunes of President Bill Clinton.

“I just don't believe anybody benefits from
shutting the government down, and certainly Republicans don't,” said
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. “We learned that in 1995.”

Cruz took the floor at 2:41 p.m. Tuesday, vowing to
speak until he's “no longer able to stand.” Wearing black athletic
shoes, he filled the time in a largely empty chamber, criticizing the
law and comparing the fight to the battle against the Nazis. He talked
about the Revolutionary War, the Washington ruling class and his
Cuban-born father who worked as a cook.

Missing from the debate were top Republicans like
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Cruz's home-state
GOP colleague John Cornyn, who say that on a second vote later this
week, they will support ending Cruz's effort to derail the funding bill.
That vote is crucial because it would allow top Senate Democrat Harry
Reid of Nevada to kill the Obamacare provision on a simple majority,
instead of the 60 votes often needed for victory.

Democrats control the chamber with 54 votes.

“I think we'd all be hard-pressed to explain why we
were opposed to a bill that we're in favor of,” McConnell told
reporters Tuesday. “And invoking cloture on a bill that defunds
Obamacare … strikes me as a no-brainer.”

If Cruz employs all delaying tactics at his
disposal, the Senate might not vote to pass the measure until Sunday.
But with the fiscal year set to expire at midnight Monday, McConnell
warned that extended delays could hamper the GOP-controlled House's
ability to send a pared-down measure back to the Senate in time to try
to salvage some kind of victory, perhaps on a bipartisan proposal to
eliminate a new Obamacare tax on medical devices.

The overnight debate included some diversions.

Lee discussed a childhood accident in which his
foot was run over by a car driven by his father and spoke of his longing
to be a pirate. Cruz recalled his first Christmas dinner with his
future wife's vegetarian parents, which he described as “just like any
other Christmas dinner except the entree never comes.”

As the sun rose, Cruz was helped by another tea
party favorite and possible rival for the 2016 GOP presidential
nomination: Sen. Marco Rubio. The Florida lawmaker spoke for over an
hour about the damage he said Obamacare is doing to the economy, as Cruz
– who must remain in the chamber and standing to retain control of the
debate – strolled in a nearby aisle and occasionally leaned against
desks.

Despite his tenacity, it seemed Cruz would not
surpass the longest Senate speech on record, a 24-hour, 18-minute
filibuster by South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond against the civil
rights act in 1957.

Senate rules required the chamber to have an
initial vote on the spending bill by early Wednesday afternoon – a roll
call that would end Cruz's remarks short of the record.

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