WASHINGTON — The Senate is all but guaranteed to pass a $1.1 trillion grab-bag funding bill to keep the government open. But the effort to pass the bill has been fraught with drama, as a simmering feud between Republican leaders and the conservative wing of their party led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) sparked an unusual weekend voting marathon Saturday.
It all started Friday evening when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) rejected an offer from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to push ahead with the funding bill, as well as measures that extend expiring tax breaks and the federally backed terrorism insurance program.
Reid objected because he also wanted to approve about 20 of President Barack Obama’s nominees before the Senate left session.
The resulting arrangement was that the Senate would approve a short stopgap funding bill on Friday, take a break, then finish most remaining business by Monday night, including the controversial funding bill that will keep the government running through September.
McConnell even left the Capitol around 9 p.m,, telling reporters he’d see them Monday.
But soon thereafter, Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) headed to the Senate floor and objected, blocking the short stopgap and forcing the chamber into session on Saturday. The two conservative senators are demanding a vote on a point of order, raised by Cruz, that questions the validity of the entire spending bill. The move is an effort to object to President Barack Obama’s executive action sparing up to 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Cruz questioned whether America should trust McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to follow through on their pledges to fight Obama on immigration. The two leaders convinced their members not to use the funding measure for battles over immigration or the Affordable Care Act. Boehner and McConnell got Republicans to agree to fund most of the government, but leave the Department of Homeland Security with only enough cash to run through February, at which time the leaders promised to challenge Obama’s immigration orders.
“I take them at their word because the alternative would be that elected leaders were saying something to the American people they don’t believe, and they don’t intend to follow through on,” Cruz said during a long floor speech.
But, he added, “I would note that a whole lot of citizens across this country feel a little bit like Charlie Brown with Lucy and the football, where in fight after fight leadership in Congress says, ‘We’ll fight next time — not this time, no, no, no. The wise thing to do is to fight in a month, fight in two months, fight in thee months.”
“There comes a point when Charlie Brown has kicked the football and fallen on his rear end one too many times,” Cruz said.
While Reid had hoped for a break, Lee blocked that plan, saying, “I don’t see any reason why the United States Senate should suspend its operations while the American people are waiting for us to act.”
Ironically, Cruz and Lee’s objections actually sped of the process of passing the funding bill. Without the break, the Senate will hold its final procedural vote on the spending bill around 1 a.m. Sunday, then pass it Monday at about 7 a.m.
Cruz said his goal was to put senators on the record as to whether or not they support Obama’s “illegal amnesty.”
Reid and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) made sure to highlight Cruz and Lee’s mini-revolt when they opened up Saturday’s vote-a-rama. The Democratic senators noted that Cruz was mostly criticizing members of his own party, the same way he did last year before leading fellow conservatives in a push to defund Obamacare, which resulted in a government shutdown.
“I might just ask the majority leader, this is the same senator who shut down the government last year in protest over the Affordable Care Act?” Durbin asked Reid in a brief colloquy.
“The very same man,” Reid responded. “Now he’s hung up on not only the Affordable Care Act, but the president’s action to give 5 million people relief in this country so they can come out of the shadows and make this country a more productive place.”
The spending bill is also being criticized from the left, with a group of lawmakers led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) complaining about provisions that allow wealthy donors to give even more money to political parties and ease the Dodd-Frank bill’s restrictions on banks making risky trades.
Funding for the government is set to run out at midnight Saturday, but the House of Representatives has already passed a separate measure that authorizes spending until Wednesday. The Senate can pass that whenever it needs to, as long as none of its members object.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.
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