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Straightening out the pretzel of the ‘defund Obamacare’ effort in the Senate

Sen. Ted CruzSenate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Monday moved the Senate in the direction of acting on legislation to continue government spending beyond Sept. 30 that also strips the Affordable Care Act of its funding. With where the process appears headed, however, the prospects of the ‘defund Obamacare’ effort in the Senate are doubtful.

Reid scheduled a Wednesday vote to cap and end debate on the House-passed ‘continuing resolution’ (CR), which in its current form would fund the federal government through Dec. 15 but defund the President’s health care law. It would seem like common sense that backers of the movement to deny Obamacare its money stream would want a little less talk and a lot more action on their championed policy — only Senate procedure doesn’t make it so clearly cut.

Were Reid able to secure the 60 votes necessary to conclude debate on the continuing resolution and advance it in the legislative process — 60 votes being the requisite number for such procedural motions in the Senate, referred to in jargon-speak as “invoking cloture” — the Democrats simply would then introduce an amendment to the legislation that restores Obamacare funding in preparation for passing a ‘clean’ version of the continuing resolution. Because such an amendment only requires a simple majority for passage and Democrats effectively have 55 of the Senate’s 100 seats, the likes of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a key proponent of the defund Obamacare front, are wholly against approving the motion to end debate.

“In my view, every Senate Republican should stand united and support the House Republicans,” Cruz said Monday. “Any senator who votes for cloture on the bill … is voting to allow Harry Reid to fund Obamacare with just 51 votes.”

Cruz’s obstacle is that Senate GOP leadership, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), is not on-board with his strategy. Its rationale: House Republicans passed a spending bill that defunds Obamacare, and Senate Republicans should vote to progress it, no matter the hypothetical of the Obamacare provision being undone — and no matter how likely the undoing would be if Democrats had a chance to offer their amendment.

Welcome to the expert pretzel-making that is the intersection of politics and Senate procedure.

“Sen. McConnell supports the House Republicans’ bill and will not vote to block it, since it defunds Obamacare and funds the government without increasing spending by a penny,” a spokesman for McConnell said Monday. “He will also vote against any amendment that attempts to add Obamacare funding back into the House Republicans’ bill.”

In other words, both ends are covered. A spokeswoman for Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Cruz’s Texan counterpart and McConnell’s top lieutenant in leadership, indicated his similar opposition to snagging the CR.

“Sen. Cornyn will not block a bill that defunds Obamacare,” she said.

So without the backing of top Senate Republicans, the possibility of denying Democrats the handful of Republican votes needed to secure a 60-vote majority on the motion to end debate is in serious question. With that in mind, here’s where the effort to stop Obamacare from being un-defunded stands now.

If the measure to wrap up debate is agreed to in the Senate Wednesday, by rule, there would be a maximum of 30 hours for debate before moving to the next stage of the legislative process. Timing mechanisms in Senate procedure dictate that it could be as late as Sunday before the chamber would adopt the ‘clean’ spending measure with full Obamacare funding and ship it back to the House for consideration.

Sunday is Sept. 29. Government funding expires at day’s end on Sept. 30.

Get ready for a week of fireworks in Washington, irrespective of the fact that Independence Day is more than two-and-a-half months in the rearview mirror.

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