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Obamacare defunding: Will there be a filibuster?

Is there going to be a big, tag-team, talk-till-you’re-hoarse filibuster in the US Senate next week? We ask that question because Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas is threatening one, and right now it seems likely to happen.

Here’s the state of play: The House on Friday almost certainly will pass a spending bill to keep the government running after Oct. 1, when current spending authorization expires. But that bill will contain a provision that attempts to defund Obamacare – something that’s anathema to most Democrats and would face a certain slash from President Obama’s veto pen.

Enter the Senate. The House will send the spending bill over to the other side of Capitol Hill, where it faces a future that is a mix of certainty and unpredictability. The certainty is that the Obamacare defunding provision will be stripped from the bill, as sure as the sun rises in the East and lobbyists wear blue suits. How that happens? That’s where the unpredictability comes in.

It’s possible that Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada tries the straight-up approach: He just brings the bill to the floor, musters 60 votes to begin debate, strips the amendment with a simple majority, then gets 60 votes for cloture and eventual passage.

This would require five or so GOP senators to vote with Senator Reid, but it’s likely he can get those votes. A number of Republicans have said they’re not in favor of shutting down the government over the Obamacare issue, given there is a snowball’s chance in a pizza oven that it will become law. Senator Cruz acknowledged as much on Wednesday when he said in a statement, “Harry Reid will no doubt try to strip the defund language from the continuing resolution. And right now he likely has the votes to do so.”

Have you followed these preliminaries? Because this is where the filibuster part comes in.

It became clear on Thursday that conservative House Republicans were mad at Cruz for what they felt was a very premature admittance of defeat. He’d been the one out front, leading the defund-Obamacare charge, urging House conservatives to stand fast against the GOP leadership’s attempts to delink the Obamacare provision from the spending bill. Yet here he was, apparently putting the onus on his House colleagues to stand and fight.

So on Thursday, Cruz stood with House colleagues at a hug-and-make-up news conference, saying that he wanted to “commend House conservatives for sticking their neck out” and that he now stood shoulder-to-shoulder with them.

This interplay makes a real Senate filibuster more likely. Why? Because now Cruz needs to do something to prove he’s really not just sitting on the sidelines, cheering other players on.

In March, Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky energized tea party conservatives with his impromptu 13-hour talking filibuster against Obama administration drone policies. Now many in the House GOP would like to see Cruz, Senator Paul, and fellow tea party favorites Sens. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida and Mike Lee (R) of Utah join in a similar effort to defend the defund Obamacare effort.

“The hope is that it might inspire Republicans the same way the March filibuster did, and perhaps start a wave of public opinion in support of defunding,” writes well-connected conservative Byron York in the Washington Examiner.

Cruz says he’s game. Asked by NBC’s Luke Russert whether he’d be willing to filibuster, he said, “Yes, and use any procedural means necessary.”

The problem is that Cruz and his allies would only be able to talk to a certain point. Republicans don’t have the votes to sustain the filibuster. Far more than the six GOP senators that the Democrats would need have indicated they won’t support a defunding filibuster, according to Mr. York.

Paul himself on Thursday said the effort would not, in fact, end Obamacare funding – pointing out that his own filibuster failed in the end.

“They have to realize that my filibuster delayed things for 13 hours, but didn’t stop things,” Paul said in a Fox News interview.

Of course, to some extent the purpose of the filibuster would be to simply take a stand. Unless Reid does not give Cruz et al. a chance to stand up and talk.

Roll Call legislative procedural expert Niels Lesniewski on Thursday outlined a method whereby the Senate majority leader might be able to do what he wants without a single GOP vote to help. It involves bringing the bill up and calling for a vote to proceed to debate before stripping out the Obamacare defunding provision. Then it gets complicated: You can read it in full here. Didn’t we say the whole process might be unpredictable?

Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 09/20/2013 - 10:58 am.

    I can’t believe

    that everyone just assumes that not one democrat senator would stand up for his constituents and vote to delay Obamacare until they get it right. After they’ve given waivers to big business, congress, and other squeaky wheels because the law is so screwed up?

    And not ONE democrat senator will stand with the American people, most of whom don’t want this? I guess not.

  2. Submitted by Dennis Litfin on 09/21/2013 - 01:17 pm.

    Living in the past…

    Sorry Dennis, The American people Do Want quality healthcare….something they have not had under republican rule. What they do Not want is more of the same poor healthcare that smug republicans have offered. ObamaCare is a step for equality….something that republicans do not want for the American people.

  3. Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 09/22/2013 - 02:47 pm.

    We can’t wait

    for our politicians to get health care insurance right. We have to accept any reform, however small, that empowers our health care system to keep more people healthier – and better able to fight for more progress in the future.

    I understood this when the single-payer option was taken off the table – by Democrats, understanding full well that if they fought for this option, the private health-insurance industry would spend staggering amounts of advertising money to demonize it and defeat it, as it did during the 1990s. I understood this when the Democrats embraced Romneycare, the managed market system developed by the Heritage Foundation, and folded it into an important and long overdue legal reform forbidding private health insurers to reject applicants because of pre-existing conditions. I still understand this now, when Republican elites are misinforming the public, renaming their own system Obamacare, and harnessing the prejudice of their party’s ignorant base to defeat it, alarmed that this reform may work as well as or even better than the Heritage Foundation intended.

    We shall have to wait a long time for the single-payer option – the only solution to our health-care problem that I consider to be the “right” one – to be put back on the table again. In the meantime, any piecemeal reform that provides more uninsured people with health insurance than before is an option worth embracing and defending.

    As Wendell Berry said, “Desire will always outreach the possible. But to fulfill the possible is to enlarge it.”

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