WASHINGTON D.C. – A sense of the absurd spread on the Senate floor as lawmakers voted a second time within hours to reject a House-passed funding stopgap shortly before a midnight deadline to avoid a government shutdown.
Senators defeated the House proposal along party lines, 54-46 There were no defections. The measure would have delayed the individual mandate, a core piece of the Affordable Care Act, and prevented congressional lawmakers and staff from receiving federal subsidies when they enter healthcare exchanges.
The situation appeared surreal to lawmakers as the clock ticked toward midnight and there appeared no evidence of progress or even negotiations between the two sides.
â€œThree and a half hours essentially until the government begins to shut down. Can you believe this?â€ said Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), the chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. â€œWe are the United States of America. We are a superpower. Weâ€™re supposed to be a nation governed by rule of law and weâ€™re about to shut down.â€
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) invoked Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity as performing the same action repeatedly and expecting a different result.
He panned the House-passed legislation for increasing the out-of-pocket healthcare costs of lawmakers and staffers.
â€œThis time the House has attached a poison pill that would punish 16,000 congressional staff,â€ he said.
Senate Democrats left little doubt before the vote they would strike the amendments attached to a stopgap bill funding government through Dec. 15.
Reid declared earlier in the day that Senate Democrats would not accept any changes to ObamaCare. He said they would not even negotiate oven the landmark law until after Congress raises the debt ceiling, which is due to expire Oct. 17.
â€œWe are not going to mess around with ObamaCare, no matter what they do,â€ Reid said.
â€œThey should get a life,â€ he said of House conservatives. â€œIt is the law, declared constitutional. The exchanges are coming on board tomorrow.â€
Democrats voted in unison against delaying the individual mandate after nine House Democrats defected from their leadership earlier in the evening to postpone the controversial penalty.
The new lawâ€™s open-enrollment period begins Oct. 1.
Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Republicans are desperate to stop the law before Tuesday to prevent people from learning more about the lawâ€™s benefits.
â€œThatâ€™s why Republicans want to stop ObamaCare. They donâ€™t want these exchanges to be announced. They donâ€™t want people to see these options. They know whatâ€™s going to happen,â€ he said.
Senate Democratic leaders renewed their call on Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to put the Senate-passed stopgap up for a vote on the Senate floor.
â€œIf they call it for a vote, it will pass. They know it.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Reid would deserve the blame if the government shuts down Tuesday.