Obamacare Opponents Don't Vote Against Their Own Bill—Yet

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 25 2013 1:44 PM

Obamacare Opponents Don't Vote Against Their Own Bill—Yet

By a 100–0 vote, senators just agreed to proceed to debate on the continuing resolution. The 100, of course, includes the Texas senator who just spent more than 21 hours speaking about the need to defund Obamacare.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.

Wait, what? Like everything related to this funding resolution, it's all pointlessly complicated and guided by politicians who want to come off like heroes. Today's vote allows debate on the CR. A vote later this week will end debate, after which Democrats will quickly amend the CR to restore Obamacare funds. The conservative movement asked for senators to deploy any and all of their leverage into stopping Democrats from doing this. As Heritage Action said on Sept. 21:

Before Reid can move to eliminate the defunding language, he must first secure 60 votes to invoke cloture.  That vote, which is likely to come late next week, is a procedural motion that would facilitate efforts by Reid and others to strip the defunding language from H.J.Res.59.  If Reid uses this procedural trick, a vote on the motion to invoke cloture is a vote to undermine the House-passed bill.

This was Ted Cruz's line, too. On Fox News:

Any vote for cloture, any vote to allow Harry Reid to add funding to Obamacare with just a 51-vote threshold, a vote for cloture is a vote for Obamacare."

And in a column over the weekend:

Until Reid guarantees a 60-vote threshold on all amendments, a vote for cloture is a vote for Obamacare.

So on Wednesday, Cruz asked for unanimous consent for this plan—a 60-vote threshold. Any senator could object and kill the request. Harry Reid did so. It was at this point that the Club for Growth issued an alert about the threat posed by the CR.

To keep the House defund language secure, and to continue using the leverage of the continuing resolution, opponents of ObamaCare should vote "NO" on the cloture vote to end debate. In the event that an agreement is made that requires 60 votes to strip defund language from the resolution, we will withdraw this key vote alert.

There was no such agreement, and basically no chance of such an agreement when the vote to end debate came up. This was ominous, until Cruz took the floor and explained that everyone was watching the wrong goalposts. "The central vote the Senate will take on this fight will not occur today and it will not occur tomorrow," said Cruz. "The first vote we are going to take on this is a vote on what is called cloture on the motion to proceed."

The result of all this: Republicans can now say that they offered to shrink the debate time and let everyone finish earlier (a Democratic aide described this as Republicans calling the bluff), and that they didn't stop the Senate from at least debating the CR. So far, hey, they've voted for "funding the government and protecting Americans from Obamacare!" They'll get a second chance to vote against cloture—they just have no way of preventing that vote from opening the door to Reid's amendment.
 
"We've spent a lot of time on this and it's time to debate it," said Sen. Rand Paul. "I don't really want to characterize what the vote means."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.