Budget bill battle over Obamacare opens new GOP schism

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, center, smiles during a news conference with conservative Congressional Republicans who persuaded the House leadership to include defunding the Affordable Care Act as part of legislation to prevent a government shutdown, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

After the House passed a bill on Friday funding the government for roughly three months but defunding Obamacare, the fight over the budget and the healthcare law shifted to the Senate.

While most lawmakers, including many Republicans, have all but conceded that the Senate will never pass the House bill and will instead re-insert Obamacare funding, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who is leading the fight against the healthcare law in the upper chamber, insisted it's still possible for the Senate to follow the House's lead.

"Senate Republicans should stand united to stop [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid from changing the House bill and, in particular, from inserting the funding from Obamacare with 51 votes," said Cruz on "Fox News Sunday." "That's going to be the fight procedurally - whether he's able to use a straight party line vote, just Democrats, to put Obamacare back. And you know what? If Senate Republicans stand together, we can stop Harry Reid from doing it."

Cruz said he will ask Reid to institute a 60-vote threshold for amendments to the House bill, which would enable the Senate's 46 Republicans to block any measure re-inserting Obamacare funding if they are able to stand united.

But when he was pressed by Fox News' Chris Wallace on whether his GOP colleagues will stand behind him, the Texas Republican demurred.

"We don't know right now, and this week, we'll determine that," he said. "Look, this has been a fast moving target. You know, just a few weeks ago, we didn't have any of the votes we needed in the House or in the Senate."

If he doesn't get his wish, and the Senate votes to send a bill with Obamacare funding back to the House, Cruz said Republicans should stand strong, even if it means incurring a government shutdown - not that such a result would be the fault of the GOP.

"I believe we should stand our ground and I don't think Harry Reid and Barack Obama should shut down the federal government," he said. "Look, the House voted to fund the federal government. If Harry Reid kills that, Harry Reid is responsible for shutting down the government and he should listen to the American people, open the government, fund the government, but don't fund Obamacare because it's hurting the American people."

Despite Cruz's tough talk, most of the rest of Washington is . And some of the strongest notes of skepticism are coming from his fellow Republicans.

"I am sure the Senate is going to move that bill forward," said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., on CBS' "Face the Nation. "We don't have the ability... to put a total stop and defund Obamacare. It would be nice if we did. I'd be in the fight."

Coburn marveled that those who were clamoring loudest for a vote on defunding Obamacare, such as Cruz, are now threatening to halt the legislative the process if it doesn't suit their ends. "The ironic thing...is that the answer now in the Senate, by those who proposed this strategy, is to filibuster the very bill they said they wanted," he said.

Even Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has sided with Cruz and other Republicans pushing to defund the law, threw cold water on the likelihood that they could succeed.

"We probably can't defeat or get rid of Obamacare," Paul told reporters at a Republican gathering on Saturday, according to the Associated Press.

The skepticism from Paul and Coburn echoed that of other Republicans, such as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who said this week that it's not "rational" for Republicans to think they can defund the healthcare law during the budget fight, and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who urged Cruz to "keep quiet" with his hard-line on Obamacare.

Democrats, for their part, agree with their GOP colleagues who believe that de-funding the healthcare law is off the table. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has vowed that any bill that touches Obamacare funding is "dead" when it reaches his chamber.

In the meantime, though, Democrats are happy to sit back and watch Republicans snipe at each other, saying the infighting demonstrates just how disorganized and ideologically bankrupt the GOP has become.

"Let's be really clear about this: The Republicans put legislation on the floor that was intended to shut down government. For them, that's a victory, because they're anti-government ideologues who dominate the Republican Party," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Sunday on CNN. "The effect of putting the Affordable Care Act on the bill is to shut down government. They know that. They know that has no prospect of prevailing."

"I call them legislative arsonists," she continued, warning that Republicans' obsession with Obamacare could wreak havoc on other, unrelated budget items. "They're there to burn down what we should be building up in terms of investments and education and scientific research and all that it is that make our country great and competitive. I don't paint them all with the same brush. And I certainly don't paint the speaker with that brush. But enough of them in their caucus to shut down government. That would be a victory for them."

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., told "Fox News Sunday" that Republicans are throwing a "tantrum" because they didn't get their way in the 2012 election.

"It's not brute political force that is refusing to defund Obamacare. It's called the American people and elections. I don't think in America, we should throw tantrums when we lose elections and threaten to shut down the government and refuse to pay the bills," she said. "I cannot believe that they are going to throw a tantrum and throw the American people and our economic recovery under the bus."

  • Jake Miller

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