Washington • The Senate snuffed out Sen. Mike Lee’s plan to fight Obamacare, though the Utah Republican urged his House colleagues to mount a counteroffensive — a move that could end in a government shutdown come Tuesday.
The Senate’s stopgap budget bill is now on its way back to the House — this time with full funding of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. The Senate action on Friday sets up a confrontation on Capitol Hill as federal agencies prepared to furlough employees and shutter facilities nationwide if no agreement is reached.
Lee and Senate pal Ted Cruz, R-Texas, made it clear they are not ready to move on to another tactic in their hard-charging fight against the health care law, even though they lost the support of half the Senate Republicans. They’d rather replay the whole fight over again this weekend.
“I’m also hopeful when the House sends the bill back that it will be an opportunity for every Senate Republican to come home, to stand with the principles we all share,” Cruz said.
Lee, who has held a series of strategy sessions with some House Republicans in recent days, said he’s confident the House will “do the right thing” and send back a bill that again cuts any money for Obamacare.
If the House grants Lee’s wish, it’s highly likely that non-essential government services will cease Tuesday at 12:01 a.m., despite the senator’s promises that the government will remain operating at the end of this showdown.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters the House should pass a straight-forward bill to extend funding into the next fiscal year.
“We are going to accept nothing that relates to Obamacare,” Reid said. “Why don’t [Republicans] get a life and talk about something else. … America deserves better than what they’ve tried to do to our country.”
Teetering near the cliff • The brinksmanship is expected to continue playing out over the weekend as the Republican-controlled House weighs its options.
Any changes by the House to the Senate-passed version could leave little time for reconciliation. Federal agencies were posting plans Friday on what operations would close and which workers would be told to stay home if Congress failed to agree on funding.
President Barack Obama implored House Republicans to pass the Senate version, arguing they would be hurting Americans otherwise.
“The federal government has a large role across the country and touches the lives of millions of people, and those people will be harmed,” Obama said. “And even the threat of a shutdown already is probably having a dampening effect on our economy.”
But Lee and Cruz cheered on the House to pass a budget bill that slashed any money for implementing the Affordable Care Act last week but then flipped their strategy when the measure hit the Senate, since it became clear Democrats would simply restore that funding when the bill came up for final passage.
Lee’s efforts to block action on the House bill failed, though the Senate Republican minority did maintain its unified stance against Obama’s signature health law, voting unanimously against an amendment to restore funding. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, was absent from Friday’s votes, attending a family wedding, his office said.
In recent weeks, Lee repeatedly pressured members of his own party to follow his strategy by saying “a vote to fund Obamacare is a vote for Obamacare.”
He encouraged activists to call and email Republicans who weren’t prepared to stand with him and painted them as members of the “ruling class,” in his oft used construction that he was siding with the American people against Washington.
Early on some Republicans criticized the strategy, such as Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., who called it “the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard” and Hatch, who more softly questioned the “end game.”
GOP infighting • But as the pressure mounted and the votes neared, GOP infighting became angrier and more public.
In a meeting in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office, the normally soft-spoken Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., told Lee and Cruz he hadn’t been bullied since the seventh grade and he wouldn’t be bullied now, according to a report in Politico.
And on Thursday, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., took to the Senate floor and accused Cruz and Lee of grandstanding for the sole purpose of publicity with their delay tactics.
As Republicans argued among themselves, Democrats ratcheted up their criticism, labeling Lee and his allies as anarchists, fanatics and blackmailers.
“The Republican Party has been infected by a small but destructive faction that would rather tear down the house our founders built than govern from it,” Reid said. “These extremists are more interested in putting on a show... than in legislating.”
Cruz, who held the Senate floor for more than 21 hours in a doomed filibuster, defended his and Lee’s actions as doing what the American people wanted.
“It is not easy to disagree with your political party but at the end of the day what we’re doing is bigger than partisan politics,” Cruz said. “What we’re doing here is fighting for 300 million Americans across this great country.”
At sltrib.com• On Tuesday at 12:15 p.m., Trib Talk’s Jennifer Napier-Pearce will discuss how the Affordable Care Act will affect businesses with Patty Conner, director of the state-run health exchange for businesses; health care consultant Dan Schuyler; and human-resources consultant Aaron Call. You can join the discussion by sending questions or comments to #TribTalk on Twitter and Google+.