WASHINGTON (AP) — A potential federal shutdown hurtling ever closer, the Senate dealt an emphatic defeat to a core of rebellious young conservatives Friday and approved legislation preventing government agencies from closing on Tuesday.
The 54-44 vote, however, hardly spelled an end to Washington's latest down-to-the-wire budget drama. It remains unclear whether the Democratic-led Senate and the Republican-run House will be able to craft a compromise and rush it to President Barack Obama for his signature before the government has to tell hundreds of thousands of federal workers to stay home.
The fight was certain to spill into the weekend at least. House GOP leaders were still struggling Friday to win over restive conservatives and concoct a new version of the bill that would be able to win approval in their chamber — and clear the Senate too.
The high-stakes showdown was playing out in a climate of chaos, unpredictability and GOP infighting that was extraordinary even by congressional standards. Reflecting the building drama, Senate Chaplain Barry Black opened Friday's session with a prayer that included, “Lord, deliver us from governing by crisis.”
Before final approval, the Senate voted 79-19 to reject an effort by some Senate conservatives to block final passage of the legislation.
Led by first-term GOP Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, the band of conservatives has wanted to derail the shutdown bill. They argued such a move would have prevented Democrats from removing a provision blocking money for Obama's health care law and forced Democrats to negotiate on reining in that 2010 overhaul, which conservatives and many Republicans despise.
Yet Republican lawmakers opposed the conservatives' tactics, worried that it was doomed to failure and would only enhance the chances of a government shutdown for which the GOP would be blamed by voters.
The lopsided margin of the vote against the conservatives underscored the opposition they stirred in their own party. Twenty-five GOP senators voted against them, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and the Senate's other two top Republicans, John Cornyn of Texas and John Thune of South Dakota.
“It is not easy to disagree with your political party,” said Cruz. “But at the end of the day, what we're doing here is bigger than partisan politics. What we're doing here is fighting for 300 million Americans,” who, he asserted, widely oppose Obamacare.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., barely concealed his scorn for the conservatives' effort.
“Today, the Republican Party has been infected by a small and destructive faction,” he said. Noting the increased risk of a shutdown that he said they had caused, Reid continued, “A bad day for government is a good day for the anarchists among us.”
Even in the House, some Republicans were unhappy with Cruz's and Lee's efforts.
“I think that a government shutdown is counterproductive to our message in 2014, because we transfer the public's attention perhaps away from Obamacare and instead put it on the pain that will be inflicted, that is still to be determined, on the effects of a government shutdown,” said Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark.