Senate Votes to Avoid Government Shutdown and Fund Obamacare

Friday, 27 Sep 2013 03:33 PM

By Todd Beamon

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The U.S. Senate on Friday voted to temporarily finance the federal government through mid-December and to pay for Obamacare for the next year — dealing a major blow to Republicans who supported a House-backed resolution that would have stripped funding for President Barack Obama's beleaguered healthcare plan.

"I would like to ask my colleagues: 'Do you want to be responsible for killing jobs? … Do you want to be responsible for making full-time work, part-time work? If not, then vote no," Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate's Republican whip, said before the final vote.

"This is a second chance," Cornyn said. "We don't get many second chances in life."

The final vote was 54-44 along party lines. The amendment to strip the Obamacare funding from the House bill was sponsored by Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, both Democrats.

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The Obamacare amendment had come after the Senate voted — also 54-44 and along party lines — to end debate on the measure that the House passed last week that would have removed the healthcare funding from the continuing resolution to keep the government running beginning on Tuesday.

"We're out of time," Mikulski said after proposing the amendment. "The government runs out of money in three days."

She did not speak about the Obamacare portion of the amendment.

The GOP senators who voted against ending debate on the Senate floor also refused to support the final bill with the amendment that pays for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The Senate version will now be sent back to the House, where Speaker John Boehner has said that the lower chamber will not pass a "clean" spending bill — one that lacks a measure that defunds Obamacare — but has also said that he had "no interest in seeing a government shutdown."

In addition, Obama has said that he would not sign any legislation that excluded funding for the healthcare law.

Congress is expected to work through the weekend to hammer out a compromise resolution to keep the government running past Monday, when the fiscal year ends, and addresses House opposition to financing Obamacare.

If Republicans continue their demand that Obamacare be defunded, delayed, or otherwise challenged, the chambers could easily be at an impasse by midnight on Monday.

The series of Senate votes began when the body approved the initial version of the House resolution, 79-19, which would keep the government open while defunding Obamacare, according to Fox News.

Several Republicans joined Democrats in voting "yes" on that vote, ignoring appeals by GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and other conservatives to stall the vote.

That first roll call had put Republicans in a difficult position, and prompted much public infighting.

Tea party-aligned Republicans like Cruz, who spoke 21 hours and 19 minutes against Obamacare on the floor this week, argued that Republicans should stop the bill.

Though the bill technically defunded Obamacare, which Cruz and his colleagues wanted, they argued that since Reid would restore the funding, they should vote "no."

Several Republicans rejected this logic.

"I don't understand how I can otherwise vote on a matter that I want to see passed," Cornyn said.

The Friday vote capped a tumultuous week in the Senate, one that saw Cruz's marathon speech, senators trading myriad accusations against one another, and political maneuvering and posturing by party leaders in both congressional bodies.

Reaction from GOP senators was swift and strong after the Friday vote.

"Today, I proudly voted to defund Obamacare, and I am proud that every Senate Republican has united in support of the House-passed defund Obamacare provision," said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. "I only wish that more Senate Democrats, many of whom were responsible for Obamacare’s passage into law, would have voted with us.

"With Democrats in control of the Senate, we needed Democrats to join with the American people who want Obamacare stopped in its tracks," Graham added. "Based upon the Democrats' unanimous votes in support of funding Obamacare, they must not have gotten the message.

"Obamacare is, has been, and will remain a financial disaster for our nation," Graham said.

Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina noted that he had voted "56 times to defeat, dismantle, and defund Obamacare."

Since the healthcare law's passage in 2010, "the evidence has confirmed our worst fears," Burr added. "It is putting a wet blanket on job creation, squeezing more of Americans' hard-earned take-home pay, increasing healthcare costs, and decreasing access to quality healthcare.

"That is why my colleagues and I have never given up the fight to repeal this law in its entirety and replace it with patient-centered reforms that increase access and affordability to quality care and put patients and doctors back in charge," Burr said.

And, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, lamented how Senate Democrats "chose to stand with their party bosses rather than defend middle-class families, workers, and employers who are being crushed by Obamacare.

"Healthcare premiums continue to increase, more and more Americans are losing their healthcare, and businesses are cutting hours or not hiring — hitting lower-income and middle-class families the hardest," Thune added. "It’s time to give families and the economy a break from Obamacare by permanently delaying the law for all Americans."

The Associated Press also contributed to this report.



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