The Senate on Friday approved a short-term government spending measure that includes money for Obamacare, defeating a faction of conservative Republicans who wanted to block the bill to prevent the government from funding the new health care law.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who led a nearly 22-hour filibuster against the measure, called the outcome "sad," and said he's already talked to GOP House leaders about other steps that can be taken to block a spending bill that's needed to keep the government open beyond Monday.
The Democratically-controlled Senate passed the temporary spending bill on a 54-44 party-line vote, returning it to the House, which is expected to take it up this weekend. Republicans are expected to try again to amend the bill to delay or weaken the health care law.
Whatever the House passes will then go back to the Senate, but with just hours to spare before the fiscal year ends and the government runs out of money Monday.
Cruz said he would attempt to add some "variation" of the defunding provision that the House approved last week, possibly seeking a delay in the implementation of Obamacare instead of an out-right defunding.
"What form that takes will be up to the members of the House and their leadership and I'm confident they will do the right thing," Cruz said.
House Republicans will meet Saturday to plot their next move. Senate Democrats want them to pass a "clean" government spending bill, which would last until Nov. 15 and would exclude any modification to the health care law. But Republicans are more likely to add on Obamacare provisions that will appeal to their base of conservatives but would also be difficult for Senate Democrats to reject. The possible amendments include striking a 2.3 percent medical device tax from the health care law or excluding health insurance subsidies for members of Congress and their staff.
"I do think they have some options that could work well," said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who has met with House leaders to work out a plan. "There are some amendments that would be very difficult for people not to support."
The Senate resolution passed after a group of conservative Republicans waged an all-night filibuster against it led by Cruz, who was trying to drum up a "grassroots tsunami" against Obamacare that would convince all 46 Republicans to unite and deny the Democratic majority the 60 votes needed for to cut off debate and advance the bill for a final vote.
But only 18 Republicans voted with Cruz, with many of the rest explaining that while they oppose Obamacare, they did not want to tie its defunding to a politically risky government shutdown.
"There are a lot of other things we can do in the meantime," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor before voting for cloture on the bill.
McConnell and other Republicans want to push for a one-year delay in the health care law, which is set to begin Oct. 1 when health care exchanges are supposed to open.
But other GOP lawmakers said House Republicans should set the bar much lower, adding only provisions Senate Democrats can't refuse, such as the repeal of health care subsidies for those working in Congress.
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., introduced a bill in the Senate that would strip out the subsidies, which amount to about 75 percent of the health care premiums payed by lawmakers and staff.
"It would be hard not to accept the Vitter language," McCain said. "The American people don't think Congress and their staffs should have different treatment than they do."
The dilemma House GOP leaders face, however, is that dozens of their most conservative members want much more than Vitter is asking and are pushing for at least a one-year delay in the implementation of Obamacare, if not a complete defunding.
"My folks don't want Oct. 1 to happen," Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., said. "To go home and tell them I'm not going to defund the law, they are going to say, 'Why are you going to wait a year. We don't want it at all.'"