U.S. Senate

By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON | Mon Sep 23, 2013 3:12am EDT

(Reuters) – The U.S. Congress begins a wild and potentially chaotic week on Monday that may or may not end with a government shutdown on October 1 but will surely do nothing to improve its low standing with American voters.

With action to fund the government required in both the U.S. Senate and then once again in the House of Representatives, a down-to-the wire battle through next weekend is almost guaranteed.

And when members are finished with that, they will confront an even more volatile clash over increasing the government’s borrowing authority, with its credit rating and possible default on the line.

The long Republican war against “Obamacare,” President Barack Obama’s healthcare signature law set for launch on October 1, is at the heart of the clashes ahead. Republicans are using both the threat of a shutdown as well as the debt ceiling in an effort to scuttle or delay the law.

Yet the only certainty is that when the dust settles, Obamacare will still be standing. Neither the Democratic Senate nor Obama will agree to a bill delaying the program, signed into law by the president in March, 2010 to provide health coverage for millions of uninsured Americans.

The clash is a potentially defining moment for Republicans, who are badly divided over the anti-Obamacare tactic being pursued by the House.

DEFINING MOMENT FOR REPUBLICANS

Influential conservatives, including senior Republicans in the Senate, strategist Karl Rove and Fox News broadcaster Bill O’Reilly have called it futile, warning that a shutdown could seriously damage Republicans on the eve of the 2014 elections.

O’Reilly last week described the effort as “fanaticism on the right,” which is “harming the country. There’s no way Obamacare is going to be defunded…. So why bother alienating independent Americans by embracing a futile exercise,” he said on Fox.

Congressional authorization for the government to spend money runs out at the end of the fiscal year on September 30.

Whipped on by activists of the Tea Party movement, born in reaction to Obamacare when it was before Congress in 2009 and increasingly powerful in Republican election contests, Republicans in the House voted on Friday to make the measure conditional on defunding Obamacare.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has made it clear that he will work this week to delete the House Republicans’ provision defunding Obamacare.

The first important vote on the House-passed Obamacare spending bill could come on Tuesday when Reid might stage a vote on a “motion to proceed,” which basically asks the Senate’s permission to debate a bill.

Sixty votes in the 100-member Senate likely will be required to approve this procedural move. Democrats control 54 votes -including those of two independents-versus 46 for Republicans.

An easy vote had been anticipated because it was thought that Republicans would surely vote to begin debate on a bill that aims to kill the healthcare law that they hate.

But U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas could make a filibuster stand at that point, slowing down the process, if nothing else.

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