Senate Inches Closer To Resolution To Stave Off Shutdown

The Senate took the next step on its weeklong road to passing a spending bill to avoid a government shutdown next week. The legislative movement follows on the heels of a 21-hour talk-a-thon by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who is hoping to defund Obamacare.

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The talk-a-thon by Texas Republican Ted Cruz on the floor of the U.S. Senate has ended. And according to schedule, now senators are debating a bill to keep the federal government open for business. The deadline to extend funding and avoid a shutdown is October 1.

We'll hear shortly from Mississippi Republican Senator Roger Wicker about his views on the budget and the Affordable Care Act. That's after the latest from Capitol Hill and NPR's Tamara Keith.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Senator Cruz took the floor and promised he would stand there talking about his opposition to the Affordable Care Act until he could stand no more. At around 8 o'clock last night, he took a break from railing against Obamacare to read his daughters a bedtime story - from the Senate floor, of course.

SENATOR TED CRUZ: (Reading) I will not eat them here or there. I will not eat them anywhere. I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-am.

KEITH: Some chuckled at the senator's choice of reading material since at the end of "Green Eggs and Ham," Sam discovers that he actually likes them. New York Democrat Chuck Schumer said Cruz should reconsider the moral of the story.

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER: Maybe Ted Cruz, once Obamacare occurred, might actually like it. But, certainly, the moral of the story is don't reject something until you've tried it.

KEITH: Twenty-one hours and 19 minutes after he began, Cruz's remarks ended, not because his black sneakers finally gave out, but because that's when his speech-a-thon was scheduled to end as the Senate started a new legislative day.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The hour of noon have arrived pursuant to the order of...

KEITH: The House-passed bill the Senate is debating would fund the government for the next 11 weeks, while also defunding the president's health care law. Senate Democrats eventually plan to take out the Obamacare language.

But before they do, there are two procedural votes. Repeatedly during that 21-hour span, Cruz took his fellow Republicans to task, saying if they went along with the Democrats on those procedural votes, they were essentially voting to fund Obamacare even if what they were actually doing was voting in favor of the House bill in a form they support. As he walked off the Senate floor, Cruz said he hoped he had persuaded more senators to side with him.

CRUZ: Coming into this debate, we clearly were not united. There were significant divisions in the conference. I hope those divisions dissolve, that we come together in party unity and that all 46 Republicans vote against cloture on the bill on Friday or Saturday, whenever that vote occurs.

KEITH: He's not going to get all 46. John Cornyn, his fellow Texas senator, is among those not willing to go along with the Cruz strategy.

SENATOR JOHN CORNYN: I'm for defunding Obamacare. How do you vote no on a bill that does - that defunds Obamacare?

KEITH: Other Republican senators express similar skepticism. And, in fact, earlier today, when the first of those two procedural votes happened, even Senator Cruz voted to move ahead. Majority leader Harry Reid said he hopes to move through the debate and get a modified bill back to the House as soon as possible.

SENATOR HARRY REID: It has been a big waste of time. The government is set to shut down in a matter of hours. In just a few days, the government will close.

KEITH: Unless the process is sped up dramatically, the House will most likely get the bill back over the weekend. The House could accept the Senate version or modify it and bounce it back to the Senate with precious little time before a government shutdown. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the Capitol.

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