Time lapsing for GOP to stop health care law

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, emerges Wednesday from his overnight crusade against the Affordable Care Act. (Associated Press)
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, emerges Wednesday from his overnight crusade against the Affordable Care Act. (Associated Press)

Shutdown threat complicates strategy

WASHINGTON – The collapse of a GOP strategy to halt President Barack Obama’s health care law has Republican leaders scrambling to find other ways to dismantle it as part of legislation needed to fund the government in a few days or trigger a shutdown.

Time is not on their side: Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has monopolized the floor in his lonely filibusterlike campaign to kill the Affordable Care Act. Patience among Republicans for the renegade senator’s go-it-alone strategy is waning as money for routine government operations is set to run out by Oct. 1.

Republicans huddled again Wednesday after a rare 100-0 vote in the Senate to end the first round of debate over a bill that would fund the government but not the health care law. Cruz, who had just completed one of the longest speeches in Senate history, urged Republicans to oppose an upcoming motion as part of his effort to stall the bill. He did not attend the strategy session.

“All I know is how it ends: We don’t defund Obamacare,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., as he emerged from the private lunch. “Seen this movie before.”

Republicans are in the minority in the Senate, and Democrats have the votes to protect the president’s signature law.

With that endgame understood, Republican leaders want Cruz to wrap up his moment in the limelight so that they can quickly dispatch the legislation back to the House. That would give Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, ample time to attach amendments that would curtail, but not kill, Obamacare.

A do-over could have better results, Republicans argued, if the GOP-led House attached a provision that would be difficult for some Senate Democrats to oppose. Among those being considered: a repeal of the new tax on medical device manufacturers that some Democrats dislike, or a delay of the mandate that all Americans carry health insurance or pay a fine in 2014.

“My own view is it would be to the advantage of our colleagues in the House, who are in the majority, to shorten the process,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has distanced himself from Cruz’s strategy. “If the House doesn’t get what we send over there until Monday, they’re in a pretty tough spot.”

But that strategy could leave lawmakers in the same stalemate if Senate Democrats remain unified in protecting the Affordable Care Act, as they appear inclined to do.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who has led efforts to halt the medical device tax, said linking the measures “is not the strategy we’re pushing for this time. We see this as part of a bigger budget deal or as part of some more rational changes to the health care bill.”

House Republicans truncated a recess to return to Washington on Wednesday amid the shifting debate.

Boehner had hoped to use the debt limit legislation as the next opportunity for the GOP to extract concessions from the White House on the health care law.

But those efforts have become complicated by the threat of a government shutdown and the House Republican strategy of loading up the debt limit legislation with other demands, including a requirement that the administration approve construction of the stalled Keystone XL oil pipeline between Canada and the United States.

As Congress heads toward a weekend session with no clear exit strategy, lawmakers may opt to pass a stopgap measure to fund the government for a week or so beyond Oct. 1 while talks continue.

But until the Senate wraps up its debate, Boehner’s spokesman said, there is “no point in speculating.”

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