Chambers May ‘Ping-Pong’ Bill to Avoid a Shutdown

As the Senate heaves toward a Saturday vote on a bill to keep the government funded, the House is working on possible countermeasures that would bounce the legislation back to the upper chamber as the Tuesday deadline for a government shutdown approaches.

In a signal that House Republicans may be preparing to take the fight down to the final hours—or even beyond—Republican leaders are considering adding language to what the Senate may pass and simply batting it back.

“That’s one of the options,” said Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., one of several Republicans gathered in a meeting Wednesday evening with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “I wouldn’t stow away your ping-pong paddles.”

Exactly what Republicans might change in a Senate-passed version was apparently not yet decided as of Wednesday evening, and rank-and-file Republicans were expected to hear more in a closed-door conference on Thursday morning.

Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, said there are a number of options. He did not rule out that the House could attach some of the same demands that are expected to be joined to a House Republican debt-ceiling bill to be introduced on Thursday. Those may include a one-year delay in implementing Obamacare; language pushing forward with the Keystone XL pipeline; and a measure to repeal a tax on medical devices.

“We’ll have a conversation with the members tomorrow,” said Sessions, who also would not rule out the notion of a continuing resolution lasting one week to allow further negotiations.

The Senate has been considering a CR passed by the House to keep the government running beyond the close of the fiscal year next Tuesday. The bill also includes language that would defund the Affordable Care Act, though Senate Democrats have vowed to strip that language out.

The Senate cleared a procedural vote on the CR after a marathon floor speech by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who wants Republicans to oppose any measures that fund Obamacare. The 100-0 vote would have set up another roll call on the motion to proceed later Thursday, but leaders reached agreement to dispense with that vote.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., filed cloture to end debate on the bill itself. That vote is expected on Friday, with a final vote on Saturday, according to a Democratic Senate leadership aide.

It’s the cloture vote that Cruz called upon Republicans to oppose. Republican leaders, though, have rejected Cruz’s approach because voting to end debate on the bill would mean voting against the House language to defund Obamacare, even though that language is not likely to remain in the final bill.

Ultimately, Cruz was willing to speed up the Senate process. Before ceding control of the floor, he proposed a series of unanimous-consent agreements aimed at moving up the cloture and final votes on the bill. Cruz said he wanted the vote to be on Friday instead of Saturday to raise its visibility, but Reid did not respond to the request on the floor. It was later on Wednesday that Democratic and Republican leaders agreed to move up debate on the cloture motion.

“It is my view if they want to speed things up we are not going to slow them down,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also indicated this week that he thinks it would be beneficial for House Republicans if the Senate voted sooner.

Reid plans to use an amendment to strip out the language to defund Obamacare and to change the extension period to end on Nov. 15. The House bill took it to Dec. 15.

As to whether Reid and Boehner are meeting over the continuing resolution, Schumer said he was not aware of any meetings, and a Democratic aide said Reid and Boehner did not have any plans to meet heading into the weekend. Schumer did not rule out considering House amendments to a clean continuing resolution, and he pointed out that Democrats would like to revisit sequestration but won’t—for now.

“Our basic view is very simple, and that is, there ought to be no riders,” Schumer said. “They ought to pass the CR, fund the government for a few months, and then we could discuss the issues where we might come to agreement and not.”