Senate OKs Stopgap Spending Bill, Leaving Obamacare Intact

Tea Party-backed Republican senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee failed to block the Senate from removing language defunding Obamacare from a stopgap spending bill. Democrats proceeded to replace the House spending bill that took away money for Obamacare with their own version that funds the government through Nov. 15, but leaves the Affordable Care Act alone. A federal government shutdown starts Tuesday if both chambers don't agree on a spending plan by then.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. President Obama gave a late-afternoon talk to the nation this afternoon, and it came with two headlines. First, he said that he had just spoken with Iran's new president. That's the first time that an Iranian and an American president had spoken directly in more than three decades. We'll have some more on that a little later. But first, the president's other headline. Three days - that's how long Congress has to pass a short-term spending bill and avert a partial government shutdown. President Obama urged House Republicans to act quickly. He wants them to pass the stopgap spending bill approved earlier today by the Democratically controlled Senate.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I realize that a lot of what's taking place right now is political grandstanding, but this grandstanding has real effects on real people.

SIEGEL: Despite the president's tough words, it's not clear how this will play out. As NPR's Tamara Keith reports, even the next move is uncertain.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: As expected, earlier today, the Senate passed a bill to keep the government funded through the middle of November. And over the very loud objections of a handful of Senate Republicans, as expected, it keeps Obamacare intact. This is where the predictable part of the shutdown showdown comes to a close. It's anyone's guess what the House will do next. Richard Hudson is a North Carolina Republican and a member of the House whip team.

REPRESENTATIVE RICHARD HUDSON: I honestly think we don't have a - we haven't coalesced around a consensus yet. But hopefully we can get together and do that.

KEITH: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is largely left on the sidelines, watching and wondering how it's going to turn out.

REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI: I don't know that they even know what they're doing. So, it's impossible to say how we might react to something that they don't even know yet what they're going to suggest.

KEITH: Even people in the room with House Republican leaders aren't sure. When asked, GOP aides shrugged. Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole, who is closely allied with the speaker, says the House will send something back to the Senate. But what, that's not clear yet. In order for House Republicans to pass something, he says they'll need near total unity.

REPRESENTATIVE TOM COLE: You can't count on any Democratic votes for this. So, pretty quickly get to 180 or 190 on anything the leadership's for. But then you've got to go find the last 25, 30 votes, and that's a painstaking and time-consuming process.

KEITH: There are lots of ideas floating around. Cole would prefer to attach something small, like a rollback of the medical devices tax that's part of the health care law.

COLE: Now, that may be smaller ball than a lot of people want to play but I think if it moves me in the right direction, I'm willing to take a first down instead of a touchdown any day.

KEITH: But hardliners in the conference want to keep going for that touchdown. Some want to again pass a bill that defunds Obamacare. Others want a one-year delay. For his part, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who has been driving the Obamacare fight, is encouraging House Republicans to stand strong.

SENATOR TED CRUZ: And I hope and believe that when the House takes this up again, House Republicans will continue to stand together on the side of the American people. And I'm also hopeful when the House sends the bill back that it will be an opportunity for every Senate Republican to come home, to stand for the principles that we all share, to stand with the American people.

KEITH: House Republicans are expected to huddle tomorrow in their usual meeting room in the basement of the Capitol to try and settle on a path forward. And Senate Democrats have a message for them.

SENATOR HARRY REID: We're not going to be extorted. The country's not going to be extorted.

KEITH: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he won't accept any changes to the bill related to Obamacare.

REID: Let them send us whatever they're going to send us and we'll send it right back to them stripped of all this craziness that they have. So, we've made it clear the only way to keep the government open is to just do the right thing.

KEITH: To Reid, doing the right thing means accepting the Senate's Clean Spending Bill. Many believe it could pass the House today if Speaker John Boehner would just bring it up for a vote. But that would mean alienating those in his own party, including Congressman Hudson.

HUDSON: I think it would be devastating to the speaker's support in the conference.

KEITH: So, how can the Speaker satisfy his flock? For Hudson, it's really all about Obamacare.

HUDSON: I'm for whatever we can do to delay it and would prefer not to shut the government down. But it's more important to me that we stop the law.

KEITH: Even more important, he says, than getting re-elected. The shutdown starts Monday at midnight. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the Capitol.

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