Countdown to Shutdown: 7 Days

Photograph by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

House Republican leaders are struggling to avoid a U.S. government shutdown at month’s end after delaying a vote on a spending plan opposed by dozens of their caucus members.

Updated at 9:20, 10, 11:15 am and 4 pm EDT
with Sam Kussin-Shoptaw reporting from the Senate

“I intend to speak in support of defunding Obama-care until I am no longer able to stand. To do everything that I can to help Americans stand together and recognize that this grand experiment three and half years ago is not working,” Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, said on the Senate floor today.

The Tea Party-aligned senator took to the floor at 2:41 p.m. in an attempt to halt the progress of a continuing resolution designed to keep the government fully operational after Oct. 1. Cruz’s speech — not exactly a filibuster — would certainly be the focus of Washington over the next few hours, yet in reality his efforts will not stop the votesto proceed to the House-passed spending bill, H.J. Res. 59.

Regardless of how long Cruz and Utah Republican colleague Mike Lee could maintain control of the floor, the Senate will vote on limiting debate on proceeding to the resolution tomorrow an hour after the chamber goes into session. Still, Cruz appeared resolute in his speech, pointing out that, “by any measure, Obama-care is a far less intimidating foe than those I have discussed with the possible exception of the moon — the moon may be as intimidating as Obama-care.”

If things go as planned, he will have a chance to take on both.

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”Thelma and Louise” — the movie Harry Reid likens to the standoff on Capitol Hill.

His tweeted photo of the car going over the cliff (below) is the metaphor to be averted.

With seven working days — including the weekend — left to resolve the differences threatening a government “shutdown,” the Senate’s Republicans are calculating their move for the next confrontation ahead: Raising the nation’s debt limit.

It involves making President Barack Obama an offer he (shouldn’t) refuse.

“These lawmakers, looking beyond an effort to derail the president’s health-care law [in the budget debate under way], see the possibility of replacing automatic cuts to federal programs with reductions to entitlement spending. Among these: Obama’s proposal to trim Social Security cost-of-living increases that would save about $130 billion over 10 years,” Bloomberg’s Heidi Przybyla reports today.

“Since the president himself has proposed some of these things, it would seem logical that he would not turn that down,” John Cornyn, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, said in an interview.

There would appear be to a certain obstacle to this idea, however — similar to the obstacle involved in the House Republicans’ goal of “defunding” the Affordable Care Act in the budget resolution that carries federal spending past Sept. 30. The president, who surely won’t sign any bill undoing the law offering health insurance to millions lacking it, a signature achievement of his first term, maintains that he will not negotiate over the need to raise the debt ceiling.

The House Republicans, too, are considering alternatives to denying funding for the health-care law that could extend the spending debate past that Sept. 30 deadline, raising the risk of a federal government shutdown, Bloomberg’s Kathleen Hunter and Roxana Tiron report.

The Senate is set to hold a test vote tomorrow on the legislation passed by the House to cover federal spending through Dec. 15, and choke off funds for  Obama’s health law. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Senate this week will pass a spending measure without defunding the health law. In response, Republicans are mulling language that would hinder the health law’s implementation to be added when the Senate sends back the measure, according to congressional aides.

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“It’s the vote on Friday that counts,” Cruz said today in an interview on MSNBC. That is the day Senate leaders hope to “choke off debate,” as Cruz put it, and force a majority vote for a budget resolution without touching “Obama-care.”

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Senate Democrats are considering a proposal that would continue government funding through mid-November, a month shorter than the House version.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the chamber, said he supports a Nov. 15 measure and it would leave time to consider a catch-all spending plan known as an omnibus.

“We are repeating last year’s budget over and over again,” said Durbin, who is chairman of the Senate panel that funds the Pentagon. “That is a waste of federal money. At the Department of Defense, we are wasting millions if not billions by just repeating last year’s budget.”

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The disagreement probably will continue through the weekend, adding pressure on Congress to agree on a spending bill by Oct. 1, or begin closing some government operations. “The ransom demanded by Republicans is unworkable and unrealistic,” Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said yesterday on the Senate floor. “President Obama has been clear and I’ve been clear: Any bill that defunds Obama and his health care plan is dead on arrival in the Senate.”

The lawmakers, Przybyla notes, first must resolve the standoff over Republican efforts to deny money for the 2010 Affordable Care Act as their price for funding government programs after Sept. 30. Their next front will be raising the nation’s $16.7 trillion borrowing limit, which the Treasury says could be reached as soon as mid-October.

Obama has said he’s willing to negotiate to reduce entitlement costs. In his most recent budget plan, he proposed reducing Medicare spending by $371 billion over 10 years by taking money from provider groups including hospitals, managed-care plans and nursing homes. Health care and entitlement costs account for 43 percent of the U.S. budget.

Obama’s fiscal 2014 blueprint also proposes saving $50 billion over a decade by requiring the wealthy to pay more for their Medicare Part B and Part D coverage starting in 2017.

The thinking among Republicans is that Obama should be willing to consider cuts in the mandatory spending side of the federal budget that he has proposed, perhaps in exchange for the “sequestration” that is denying money for the Defense Department and other discretionary programs. Cornyn also is concerned that the House-led effort to strip funding for Obamacare, which is doomed in the Senate, is obscuring Republican priorities for reining in mandatory spending.

A third question is whether the White House would accept its own cuts in one place without revenue increases in other places, such as the education and infrastructure spending the president supports. The Republicans have ruled out tax increases.

At the same time, a two-tiered approach to the stopgap budget needed for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 and the debt-ceiling increase expected as soon as mid-October could give both sides something they want: Protecting the president’s health-care law while cutting other spending — cuts that he himself has endorsed.

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