WASHINGTON — Time running short, the Democratic-controlled Senate passed legislation Friday that would avert a partial government shutdown early next week. But the measure faced a swift demise in the House at the hands of tea party conservatives who are adamantly opposed to funding included for the nation's 3-year-old health care law.
The Senate's 54-44 vote was strictly along party lines in favor of the measure, which would keep the government operating routinely through Nov. 15 and prevent a shutdown that could cause delays in some services.
The bill's passage masked a ferocious struggle for control of the Republican Party pitting Speaker John Boehner and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell against rebels led by relatively junior lawmakers, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah and a few dozen allies in the House among them.
The outcome of that contest — more than differences between the two political parties — is likely to determine whether the government shuts down at midnight Monday for the first time in nearly two decades.
"We now move on to the next stage of this battle," Cruz said shortly after the Senate vote. He told reporters he had had numerous conversations with fellow conservatives in recent days, adding, "I am confident the House of Representatives will continue to stand its ground, continue to listen to the American people and ... stop this train wreck, this nightmare that is Obamacare."
The House is scheduled to be in session both Saturday and Sunday, but it is unclear when it will vote on a new bill to avert a shutdown and what health care-related items it will include.
Republican lawmakers said Boehner had made it clear he would continue to seek health care-related concessions from the White House when the House passes its next shutdown-prevention legislation. But the rank and file rebelled on Thursday when leaders suggested moving the main focus of the effort to defund Obamacare to a separate bill rather than continue to flirt with a shutdown.
There is little or no disagreement between the House and Senate over spending levels in the legislation now moving from one side of the Capitol to the other, and except for health care, passage might well be routine. The bill provides funds at an annual rate of slightly more than $986 billion, in keeping with an agreement Obama and Republicans made two years ago to restrain the growth of a wide swath of government spending from the Pentagon to the nation's parks.
Without separate legislation to make further reductions, across-the-board cuts will automatically take effect early next year that will reduce the level to $967 billion, and Republicans are fond of pointing out that the government is on track to spend less on those programs for the second year in a row — for the first time since the Korean War.