WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate passed a five-day extension of federal funding on Saturday, staving off a government shutdown and buying lawmakers more time to resolve a fight over a longer, $1.1 trillion spending bill led by Tea Party firebrand Ted Cruz.
It was the second time in a little over a year that Cruz, the Texas Republican freshman with presidential aspirations, has attempted to stop a key Obama administration initiative by denying government funds. In this case, Cruz was targeting Obama’s executive order that offered millions of undocumented immigrants relief from the threat of deportation.
Cruz was a central figure in a 16-day government shutdown in October 2013, when he persuaded Republicans to try to withhold funds from Obamacare, President Barack Obama’s landmark healthcare reform law.
In the end, Cruz got none of what he wanted and Republicans were left with little but voter anger.
On Saturday, a similar situation looked to be unfolding in the Democratic-controlled Senate after Cruz and two other Senate Republicans objected to a tentative deal to accelerate votes on the spending bill to fund government.
But the Saturday afternoon vote to extend funding through midnight Wednesday averted a shutdown for some government operations, such as national parks, that could have started after midnight on Saturday.
The larger $1.1 trillion spending bill at issue would fund all government agencies through September 2015, except for the Department of Homeland Security, which would get an extension only through Feb. 27.
Cruz and senators Mike Lee of Utah and Jeff Sessions of Alabama were demanding permission to offer an amendment that would deny the DHS any funds for carrying out Obama’s November immigration order. Critics of the order have called it an amnesty for lawbreakers.
Senators from both parties complained on Saturday that Cruz’s strategy was counterproductive and aimed at grabbing attention.
“This reminds me very much of the shutdown last year, where the strategy made absolutely no sense and was counterproductive,” Republican Senator Susan Collins said.
Cruz’s objections meant that the earliest that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could hold a final vote on the overall spending bill was 7 a.m. (1200 GMT) on Monday.
Reid accused the three Republicans of holding the legislation “hostage.”
Cruz, in a post on his Facebook page, blamed the impasse on Reid, calling him “an enabler for President Obama.”
As reporters tried to interview Cruz as he entered the Senate chamber in the Capitol, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill shouted: “Quit giving him so much attention, that’s exactly what’s causing the problem!”
Pending the vote on the spending bill, Reid called the Senate back into session, interrupting some senators’ holiday travel plans, to plow ahead with confirmation votes on dozens of Obama administration nominees, including judges, ambassadors and an immigration chief.
Republicans complained that the delay caused by Cruz would lead to the approval of a lot more nominees who they oppose, just before their party takes control of the Senate in January following their gains in midterm election in November.
Also being held up by the spending bill dispute were Senate votes on bills to renew 55 already expired tax breaks, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2014, and a six-year extension of a terrorism risk insurance program due to expire at year-end.
The spending bill was narrowly passed by the House of Representatives on Thursday night, after it ran into a revolt from Democrats objecting over provisions that roll back part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law and allow more big money political donations. [ID:nL1N0TV1WQ]