Unanimous but far from united, the Senate advanced legislation to prevent a partial government shutdown Wednesday, the 100-0 vote certain to mark merely a brief pause in a fierce partisan struggle over the future of President Barack Obama’s signature health-care law.
The vote came shortly after Texas Sen. Ted Cruz held the Senate in session overnight — and the Twitterverse in his thrall — with a near-22-hour speech that charmed the tea-party wing of the GOP, irritated the leadership and was meant to propel fellow Republican lawmakers into an all-out struggle to extinguish the law.
Defying one’s own party leaders is survivable, he said in pre-dawn remarks on the Senate floor. “Ultimately, it is liberating.”
Legislation passed by the Republican-controlled House last week would cancel all funds for the 3-year-old law, preventing its full implementation.
But Senate Democrats have enough votes to restore the funds, and Majority Leader Harry Reid labeled Cruz’s turn in the spotlight “a big waste of time.”
Any differences between the two houses’ legislation must be reconciled and the bill signed into law by Tuesday to avert a partial shutdown.
The issue is coming to the forefront in Congress as the Obama administration works to assure a smooth launch for the health-care overhaul’s final major piece, a season of enrollment beginning Oct. 1 for millions who will seek coverage on so-called insurance exchanges.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters this week that consumers will have an average of 53 plans to choose from, and her department estimated the average individual premium for a benchmark policy known as the “second- lowest cost silver plan” would range from a low of $192 in Minnesota to a high of $516 in Wyoming. Tax credits will bring down the cost for many.
Republicans counter that the legislation is causing employers to defer hiring new workers, lay off existing ones and reduce the hours of still others to hold down costs as they try to ease the impact of the bill’s taxes and other requirements.
“Obamacare is destroying jobs. It is driving up health-care costs. It is killing health benefits. It is shattering the economy,” said Cruz.
Even with the 100-0 vote, the legislation faces several hurdles that must be overcome as both houses and lawmakers in both parties work to avoid a partial shutdown Tuesday.
The struggle over restoring funds for the health care law is by far the most contentious unresolved issue.