WASHINGTON — Senators moved past a talkathon by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz on Wednesday with a baby step toward advancing legislation to keep the government open next week, while the Obama administration set an Oct. 17 date for the next crisis — raising the nation's debt limit.
The slow-moving process in the Senate left lawmakers with little to do but let the clock run on procedures for a bill that would keep the government running and defund the health care law known as Obamacare.
At the current pace, it would be Sunday before the Democratic-controlled Senate would approve legislation that — if all goes as Democrats plan — would fund the government, including Obamacare, through Nov. 15.
That leaves plenty of time to negotiate with the Republican House leaders about an end game, but those GOP leaders have to figure out their next move. House Republicans, who sent the Senate the bill to fund all of government except Obamacare, are expected to huddle Thursday morning.
All House members received “guidance” on Wednesday about how to determine which staff members can keep working if the government shuts down on Tuesday.
In the midst of the struggle over funding the government, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, saying that the government needs the authority to borrow more money beginning Oct. 17 or it would no longer be able to meet its obligations.
Congressional Republicans are expected to attach a long list of demands to raising the debt ceiling, but President Barack Obama has insisted that he won't negotiate over paying the nation's bills.
Cruz ends talkathon
Cruz, R-Texas, relinquished the Senate floor at noon Wednesday after 21 hours on his feet talking mainly about his objections to Obamacare and the way Washington works, with detours into Dr. Seuss and “Star Wars.”
“The most profound issue we are dealing with here today is not jobs, it is not the economy, it is not health care, it is not Obamacare,” Cruz said Tuesday night.
“The most profound issue we are dealing with here today is the fundamental divide between Washington and American people. There is a ruling class in Washington, D.C. — that they are subjected to different rules than the American people.”
Cruz was one of the main drivers of the current effort to defund Obamacare through a must-pass spending bill, but he is now urging Republicans to block the legislation to prevent the Democrats from stripping out the Obamacare language.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called Cruz's remarks “a big waste of time.” And Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., criticized Cruz for suggesting that Republicans not on board with his effort were similar to those who appeased the Nazis before World War II.
The Senate voted unanimously to move the bill past the first procedural hurdle, and the next one is expected this weekend.
Inhofe and tea party
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, was among a handful of Republicans who helped Cruz during his marathon speech, appearing on the floor late Tuesday and again Wednesday morning to ask lengthy questions to give Cruz some rest.
Inhofe was the target of automated calls in Oklahoma urging people to call his offices to tell him to stand with Cruz and block the spending bill in the Senate. The calls identified the source as the Tea Party Patriots — one of the nation's largest tea party groups and a strong backer of Cruz's effort.
However, Inhofe told Cruz on the Senate floor that President Barack Obama's supporters were behind the calls.
“People realized I was there from the very beginning, as the senator from Texas mentioned, and yet we have some of the Obama people who are doing robocalls in my state of Oklahoma posing as tea party people and saying to call Inhofe because he is for Obamacare,” Inhofe said.
An Inhofe spokeswoman said Wednesday that the senator's office tried to contact the tea party organization about the calls and, when they couldn't reach anybody, the senator assumed the “Obama campaign” was providing material.
The spokeswoman said later that a leader of the Tea Party Patriots had called Inhofe's office to apologize for the robocalls.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, who wants to defund Obamacare but believes the Cruz-backed effort is doomed to failure, said on the Senate floor that “the thousands and thousands of people from Oklahoma” that have called his office have “been sold a bill of goods.”