Republican leaders said Tuesday that a filibuster attempt to prevent a spending bill from reaching the Senate floor was a losing tactic in the fight against Obamacare, and instead began to ramp up pressure on a handful of Democrats, saying the real battle will be an end-of-week vote specifically on whether to keep funding the health care law.
Their decision to forgo a filibuster fight puts them at odds with Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, and his allies, who were holding the Senate floor in a talkathon Tuesday night, pushing back against Senate Democratic leaders who have the upper hand and leaving Republicans with a muddled message and few good options.
"I know at the end of this, we don't defund Obamacare," said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.
Democrats gloated over the internal fight, saying it could mark the beginning of the end of the tea party's influence among Republicans in Congress and vowing to hold firm.
"I want to be very, very clear again: The Senate will not pass any bill that defunds or delays Obamacare," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, flatly ruling out any chance at negotiations to change the law.
Without help from his colleagues, Mr. Cruz's ranting can do little to alter the schedule: a test vote Wednesday, followed within 30 hours by a vote to officially bring the spending bill to the floor, another test vote to head off a filibuster two days later, followed by up to 30 more hours of debate.
Republican leaders have said they will side with Democrats on both filibuster votes because the bill at that point still will defund Obamacare. Only after the final filibuster is cleared will Democrats offer an amendment to strip out the defunding language, which will need only a simple majority.
Faced with that math, Republican leaders said the vote should put pressure on Democrats in Republican-leaning states who are up for re-election next year: Sens. Kay R. Hagan of North Carolina, Mark L. Pryor of Arkansas, Mark Begich of Alaska and Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana.
"The question ought to be why can't red state Democrats listen to their own constituents and to give them and the rest of the country some relief from this bill that is obviously not performing as advertised," said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican in the chamber.
But the Democrats appeared to be holding firm in defending the health care law.
"Sen. Landrieu voted for the Affordable Care Act, she supports the Affordable Care and she is working to make sure the law is implemented correctly," said Matthew Lehner, communications director for Ms. Landrieu. "She will not vote to defund the law, which was passed by Congress, signed by the president and upheld by the Supreme Court."
Mr. Begich said he, too, will vote for only a "clean" bill that doesn't strip Obamacare funding.
Funding for basic government operations ends Monday, which marks the end of fiscal 2013. Congress must pass a funding bill before then or much of the government will shut down.
The House last week passed a bill that continues 2013 funding levels through Dec. 15, leaves in place the sequesters, but also specifically halts funding for the Affordable Care Act.
In the Senate, Mr. Reid said he will push through an amendment that would continue the funding only through Nov. 15, that removes the language defunding Obamacare and that fiddles with some of the other provisions the House wrote.
Despite the deadline, Democrats were content to let Mr. Cruz and his allies delay.
If they use all of the time possible, it would mean the Senate would hold a final vote late Sunday, throwing the bill back to the House with little more than 24 hours before the Monday midnight deadline.
The health care law is growing more unpopular, according to opinion polls that suggest the ongoing fight is taking a toll on Mr. Obama's signature achievement.
Still, polls show voters don't want a government shutdown and say the spending fight should be kept separate.
A United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection poll released this week found 63 percent of Americans oppose holding up government spending until Obamacare is defunded.
Republicans counter that Congress' best leverage is with the spending bills — or with the debt limit battle, which looms next month.
While the fight rages in Washington, states across the country are preparing to open their health care exchanges, or marketplaces, where those without insurance can buy plans, often with the help of government subsidies.
Although the bulk of the law has been held to be constitutional by the Supreme Court, businesses have challenged an Obama administration directive requiring them to provide contraceptive coverage, including sterilization and the morning-after pill, in plans they offer their employees. The businesses argue that the provision violates their conscience rights.
Appeals courts have split on the issue, making it likely that the Supreme Court ultimately will decide the case.
⦁ Jacqueline Klimas and Seth McLaughlin contributed to this report.
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