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Senate passes stopgap spending bill; restores Obamacare funding

With just three days left to avert a government shutdown, the Democratic-led Senate on Friday voted 54 to 44, along party lines, to fund federal operations for a few more months. The bill would keep the government through Nov. 15 at a $986 billion spending level.

The bill now goes back to the Republican-led House, where legislators will have to decide whether to accept the bill as passed or amend it again. They could pass some form of the legislation and send it to President Obama as early as Saturday.

"This is it. Time is gone," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Friday after the Senate vote. "The bill would pass the House -- the bill we just passed -- would pass the House overwhelmingly if the Speaker took it to the floor... I think they should think very carefully about their next step. Any bill that continues to play political games will force a government shutdown."

Negotiations over the spending bill -- referred to as a continuing resolution (CR) -- have come down to the wire because conservatives have been using the threat of a government shutdown as leverage in their attempts to dismantle Obamacare. The House last week passed a spending bill that included a provision to defund the health care law, but it was removed in the Senate.

Reid has said that the Senate would never accept a spending bill that defunds Obamacare, and Friday's vote made that clear -- the spending bill passed without the defunding provision, even after Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, attempted to mobilize opponents to the health care law this week with a marathon, 21-hour floor speech.

"We are going to accept nothing as it relates to Obamacare," Reid said Friday. "There's a time and place for everything, and this is not that place."

Nevertheless, Senate conservatives interested in dismantling Obamacare said the responsibility to do so now rests with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House conservatives.

"The House was always in the position where it was going to lead," Cruz said after the Senate vote. "We look forward to helping and supporting the House [in] standing up and doing the right thing."

Cruz, however, could not say exactly how the House should proceed, given that Senate Democrats refuse to include Obamacare provisions in the spending bill. "At this point I don't think it makes sense to speculate on what bills the House may pass," he said.

Cruz's ally, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said the ongoing legislative process wouldn't result in a government shutdown.

"The government's going to be funded," he said. "The question is whether we fund it with Obamacare or not."

If Congress fails to pass the spending measure before Oct. 1, non-essential federal services, such as passport and visa application processing, would shut down.

Since the Senate has refused the proposal to defund Obamacare, House Republicans have moved their anti-Obamacare efforts to the next fiscal fight -- raising the debt limit. If the U.S. doesn't raise the debt limit -- the nation's legal borrowing authority -- by Oct. 17, the U.S. could default on its loans.

However, according to one report, Cruz has urged House conservatives to buck Boehner's plan to move onto the debt ceiling and keep their focus on the continuing resolution.

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