WASHINGTON — Reflecting Republican divisions over the effort to defund Obamacare through a must-pass spending bill, Oklahoma's senators are planning to split Wednesday on a key procedural vote that has spurred dozens of calls to their offices.
Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, and Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, are both strongly opposed to the health care law and will ultimately wind up on the same side in the current struggle in the Senate.
But Coburn plans to vote Wednesday to advance a House-passed spending bill that funds all government departments but denies money to activities related to Obamacare. Inhofe said he will vote against moving the bill past a procedural hurdle.
The logical vote for them would be to advance a bill they actually support.
But the Senate's arcane rules and the fact that Democrats control the legislation have blurred the fault lines. Advancing the bill will give Democrats the chance to strip the Obamacare language and give the House a bill that keeps the government running — and Obamacare funded — past Monday, the end of the federal fiscal year.
Still, many Republicans are expected to vote with Democrats to advance the bill. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, said Tuesday he would vote to move the bill forward.
“I just don't happen to think filibustering a bill that defunds Obamacare is the best route to defunding Obamacare,” McConnell said.
“All it does is shut down the government and keep Obamacare funded. And none of us want that.”
Coburn, who has been saying for the past two months that the effort to defund Obamacare was doomed to fail, called the whole exercise “a farce” on Tuesday and said he was ready for lawmakers to “get this off our plate.”
“Our real problem is our financial condition,” he said. “Why would we have a fight over anything but that?”
Coburn said his office has been clogged with calls about the vote but he dismissed them as “organized” rather than the spontaneous response of constituents.
One of the nation's largest tea party groups, the Tea Party Patriots, which has been backing the defunding drive, launched automated phone calls in Oklahoma saying that Inhofe was planning to vote to advance the bill.
Inhofe was one of the original backers of the plan by Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, to defund Obamacare in the stopgap spending bill necessary to keep government running past Monday.
“Now is our opportunity to deal with this disastrous law, and this law has got to go,” Inhofe said Tuesday. “I have been clear on my position on Obamacare from the beginning, and it is a shame that an organization would seek to raise money with my name and a false accusation.”
Cruz spoke for hours on the Senate floor on Tuesday, criticizing Obamacare and Republican senators who were planning to vote with Democrats to advance the bill. Cruz, whose remarks didn't qualify as a filibuster since he couldn't hold the floor indefinitely, accused lawmakers of not listening to the American people.
Cruz said the 46 Republicans in the Senate had the power to prevent Senate Democrats from stripping the Obamacare language from the bill.
“If Republicans are complicit in shutting off debate ... then we have only ourselves to blame,” he said.
But McConnell, the Republican leader, said advancing the bill would put the focus on Democrats.
“If five Senate Democrats vote against the majority leader, Obamacare will be defunded. That's a vote we should want to have,” McConnell said.