WASHINGTON — A potential government shutdown hurtling ever closer, the Democratic-led Senate moved today toward passing legislation keeping the government open, but disputes with and among Republicans ensured that the fight likely would spill into the weekend and possibly longer.
The result: a high-stakes showdown playing out in a climate of chaos, infighting and unpredictability that is extraordinary even by congressional standards. Reflecting the building drama, Senate Chaplain Barry Black opened today’s session with a prayer that included, “Lord, deliver us from governing by crisis.”
With the current budget year ending Monday and at least a partial shutdown threatened in the absence of legislation, the Senate was poised for critical votes later today. Lawmakers were expected to pass the legislation after derailing a conservative effort to block the bill, and after removing House-approved language that would have stripped funding from President Barack Obama’s health care law.
Passage would bounce the legislation back to the House, where GOP leaders already have declared the pared-down Senate bill insufficient. But top House Republicans, unable to corral enough votes for an alternative due to rebellious conservatives, were mum about their next move and planned no votes on the budget bill until the weekend at least.
As the Senate debated the bill, Iowa’s Tom Harkin criticized conservatives for “throwing a temper tantrum” and risking a government shutdown because they dislike Obamacare. The veteran Democrat said their ideology-driven behavior was “every bit as dangerous as the breakup of the Union before the Civil War.”
Led by first-term GOP Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, a small band of Senate conservatives has wanted to block the shutdown bill. They argue such a move would prevent Democrats from removing the language that defunds Obamacare and would force them to negotiate on reining in the wide-reaching health care law, even though such a scenario sets up the risk of at least a partial government shutdown next Tuesday. “It’s about showing people we’re going to do what we say we’re going to,” Lee told colleagues, “even when, especially when, it’s inconvenient.” But the conservatives have run into opposition from many in their own party.