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[UPDATE: 9/24, 2:30 p.m. ET. In a surprise move, Senator Cruz has just begun a filibuster of the motion to proceed. Apparently, he was concerned that the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) was working with the Democratic leader, Harry Reid (R-Nevada) to outmaneuver him later in the process. So he took his chance to seize control of the floor a couple of days earlier than expected. FreedomWorks strongly supports Sen. Cruz's efforts. Help spread the word and pressure the Senate to defund ObamaCare using the hashtags, #KeepCruzing, #MakeDCListen, and #DefundObamaCare.]
The defunding debate is coming to a head. All eyes are now on the Senate.
For those keeping track at home, here's the current parliamentary situation, as we understand it.
Last Friday (9/20), the Republican-controlled House answered the call of the grassroots and passed a continuing resolution or CR that would keep the government funded (for three and a half months), starting October 1st, while also (permanently) defunding the Washington health care takeover, more commonly known as ObamaCare.
Enrollment in the ObamaCare exchanges begins October 1st. The health care law's principal subsidies and mandates take effect on January 1st.
Democrats, who control the Senate, were quick to declare the House-passed CR "dead on arrival," vowing to strip out the defunding provision, even at the risk of causing a government shutdown.
So what happens next?
Yesterday, we published a blog post explaining why, in order to preserve the House's defunding language and/or force a negotiation between the two chambers, the Senate must this week vote against "cloture" on the House-passed bill.
The leaders of the defunding effort, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), made clear yesterday that they can accept a straight up-or-down vote on the House bill, or alternatively an open amendment process. But they cannot accept a rigged amendment process -- one that forces the Senate to consider only one amendment (to strike the House defunding language), with only a simple majority (51 votes) required to pass it. They are willing to filibuster (and thus oppose cloture) in order to prevent such a process.
If we can stop cloture this week, Senate Democrats will be forced to negotiate with our side. But if cloture succeeds, the Democrats will have a clear path to strip out the defunding language and try to jam the House Republicans, most likely on the eve of October 1st.
Yesterday, Monday (9/23), the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-Nevada), filed cloture on the motion to proceed to the House-passed CR (H.J.Res.59). In doing so, he started an overnight clock that set up a cloture vote on Wednesday (9/25).
It appears Senate Republicans will vote in favor of this first cloture motion, because they support the House-passed CR and want the Senate to take it up. They might even agree to unanimous consent (u.c.) to skip the vote on it.
Our sources indicate that Senator Cruz will take to the Senate floor on Tuesday (9/24) around 2:30 p.m. ET. Will this be the start of a traditional "standing filibuster" to stop cloture on the motion to proceed? Most likely not, since, as I've said, Senate Republicans want the Senate to take up the bill. But it may be a warning shot to expect a filibuster of a later cloture motion -- on the bill itself.
Once cloture on the motion to proceed has been invoked, then a 30-hour “post-cloture debate” clock starts.
Once “all applicable time” has run out on that clock, the Senate will proceed to debate the House-passed CR. This is expected to happen on Thursday (9/26).
That's when we expect Senator Reid to file an amendment to strike the House language that defunds ObamaCare, and to file cloture to end debate on the bill.
The vote on cloture on the bill itself could occur as late as Saturday (9/28), with final passage occurring 30 hours later on Sunday (9/29).
That cloture vote is the big vote of the week.
If successful, it will allow Reid to call up the amendment to strike the House defunding language, and do it with only 51 votes instead of 60.
If Reid can secure that lower threshold for amendment, he and his 53 fellow Senate Democrats will be able to strip out the House defund language and send it back to the House (also, with a 51-vote majority).
So to sum up, the timetable at this point appears to be:
MON 9/23 ~ Reid files cloture on the motion to proceed.
WED 9/25 ~ Senate votes on cloture on the motion to proceed (if not waived by u.c.) (requires 60 votes to pass). We expect this motion to pass easily.
THU 9/26 ~ Senate begins debate on the House-passed CR. Reid then files amendment to strike defunding language, and also files cloture on the bill itself.
SAT 9/28 ~ Senate votes on cloture on the bill itself (requires 60 votes to pass). This is the big fight. We must stop cloture, in order to force Democrats to negotiate on the future of ObamaCare.
SUN 9/29 ~ Assuming cloture passes, Senate votes on final passage of the bill (requires 51 votes to pass).
MON 9/30 ~ Assuming amended bill passes, Senate enrolls it and returns it to the House.
TUE 10/01 ~ If no CR has been enacted by October 1st, a temporary slowdown of non-essential government services begins, while negotiations to fund the government continue.
If the Senate sends the bill back to the House, minus the defunding language, the House will have a choice: either a) accept the amended CR and send it directly to President Obama for approval, or b) insist on its position and request a committee of conference with the Senate to work out a compromise.
It should take the latter course.
Now, given the timing, that course will almost certainly involve a temporary shutdown. But that is not the end of the world, as we have explained in detail elsewhere.
There have been a dozen shutdowns since 1980. How many do you remember?
It comes down to this question:
Which is more important? Avoiding a temporary "government shutdown” at all costs? Or stopping the Washington takeover of our health care?