Some talk of avoiding government shutdown

Even as the start of the work week in the Senate featured sharp exchanges and calls for action by both political parties, the seeds of a bipartisan deal to avoid a government shutdown began to take shape – but was by no means a guarantee.

“In the course of the next few weeks, it’s going to be a white knuckle time,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who backed calls by Democrats for GOP lawmakers to drop their demands to block money for the Obama health law.

Opening the day’s session on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ridiculed opponents of the law, using words like “anarchists” and “fanatics” to describe them – and adding in the phrase “Tea Party” every chance he got.

“It’s killing their jobs, it’s taking away their health care,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) of the Obama health law, as he planted himself on the Senate floor to start the day, as if to say to Reid and Senate Democrats – ‘the Obama health law has to go.’

“It isn’t working,” Cruz said flatly.

But while the expected battle lines were fleshed out by both sides on and off the Senate floor, it was also quickly apparent that Senators in both parties were looking for a way out – a way to avoid a government shutdown.

The signs were an interesting mix:

+ Democrats made clear that Sen. Reid would likely not push to raise the amount of money to be spent in a stop gap budget from the $986 billion figure approved by the House.

+ Senate Republican leaders let it be known that they would not filibuster the temporary budget plan if Democrats succeed in striking language blocking money for the Obama health law.

In other words, this would be a bipartisan deal:

The Republicans would get a budget freeze, as Democrats would not push for over $70 billion in extra spending, and the provisions blocking money for the Obama health law would be jettisoned, pleasing Democrats, but giving the GOP heartburn.

If not for the non-stop work from Cruz and other GOP Senators backed by the Tea Party in opposition to the Obama health law, one might almost be ready to declare that, “The Fix is In.”

One would assume that if Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and his top lieutenant, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), are ready to push ahead with that kind of deal, then other Republican Senators would be expected to follow.

And if Sen. Reid embraces the funding level in the stop gap budget, then one would have to assume that many Democrats would follow his lead on the Continuing Resolution as well, in order to get a bill through the Senate.

The unknown is that if something like that is sent back to the House, could it be approved by lawmakers there in order to avoid a government shutdown?

The answer there is not as simple. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves right now.

The first procedural vote on the motion to proceed to Senate debate on the temporary budget bill is expected on Wednesday.

We still seem on target for this bill to be finished on Sunday.

Stay tuned.