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April 25, 2014

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Harry Reid throws down gauntlet on budget: ‘This is it’

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J. Scott Applewhite / AP

With three days to go before the federal government is due to run out of money, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, right, accompanied by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Sept. 27, 2013, after the Senate passed a stopgap spending bill to keep the government running, but stripped of the defund “Obamacare” language, as crafted by House Republicans.

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Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., center, accompanied by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, left, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Sept. 27, 2013, to express their frustration after the Senate passed a bill to fund the government, but stripped it of the defund "Obamacare" language as crafted by House Republicans.

The continuing resolution to fund the government and keep Obamacare intact is on its way back to the House, where representatives will be faced with a do-or-die decision.

If the House, led by Republicans who have declared themselves determined to defund the health care law, votes for the Senate-passed bill, Congress will avert a government shutdown.

If they change the bill significantly and send it back to the Senate, there will likely not be enough time left to reach an agreement before the budget runs out Sept. 30.

“This is it,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters Friday, standing in front of a digital clock ticking down the days, hours, minutes and seconds left until the shutdown deadline. “They need to accept what we just passed.”

Republicans and Democrats are still bitterly divided over the contents of the budget, and especially the provisions involving Obamacare.

Republicans have waged their budget fight primarily on the question of defunding Obamacare.

Not a single Republican senator voted in favor of the Senate budget, which the party had declared anathema because it did not strip fiscal 2014 funding from the provisions intended to help implement the health care law. It passed 54-44.

Most Republicans voted in favor of procedural motions setting up the vote, despite threats from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., that such votes were essentially selling out their cause.

A vote for the procedural motions translated as “then you are willing to fund Obamacare,” Cruz warned his colleagues earlier this week.

Most Republicans chose to ignore him. The final procedural vote Cruz had warned against ended up 79-19, more than enough to give Democrats the opportunity to then pass the Senate-favored budget resolution by a simple majority.

But not all of those who sided with Cruz credited his reasoning for having swayed their vote.

Nevada’s Sen. Dean Heller voted against all four measures the Senate considered Friday, both procedural and substantive.

He cited the short-term nature of the bill — not Obamacare — as his reason for doing so.

“For years, Congress has depended on short-term bills just like the one the Senate voted on today rather than doing its job,” Heller said in a statement released after the vote. “Washington, D.C. insists on moving from crisis to crisis without ever really finding the solutions America deserves.”

Heller went on to talk up his No Budget, No Pay Act, which would withhold lawmakers’ pay for any period Congress is expecting the government to operate under a continuing resolution and not a formal budget.

Heller reintroduced No Budget, No Pay as an amendment to the continuing resolution on Tuesday. But two weeks ago, he had already admitted on the Vegas PBS program “Nevada Week in Review” that he was unlikely to vote for any measure that left funding for Obamacare intact.

The House is expected to resume consideration of the budget on Saturday.

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