Senator speaks for hours against Obamacare

Feat of endurance is not a filibuster because it lacks power to stop vote

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WASHINGTON — Sen. Ted Cruz delivered a speech like an old-style filibuster over President Barack Obama's health care law on Tuesday, even though fellow Republicans urged him to back down for fear of a possible government shutdown in a week.

Cruz vowed to speak until he was "no longer able to stand," and filled the time in a largely empty chamber, criticizing the law and comparing the fight to the battle against the Nazis. He talked about the Revolutionary War, the Washington ruling class and his Cuban-born father who worked as a cook. He even recited Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham," saying his children were watching on TV.

"I rise today in opposition to Obamacare," Cruz said at 2:41 p.m. EDT, and he cast the 3-year-old law as a job killer and a "liberal train wreck." Nine hours later he was showing no signs of letting up.

Egged on by conservative groups, the potential 2016 presidential candidate excoriated Republicans and Democrats in his criticism of Obama's signature domestic achievement and Congress' unwillingness to gut the law. Cruz supports the House-passed bill that would avert a government shutdown and defund Obamacare, as do many Republicans.

However, because there was no way to stop Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., from moving ahead on the measure, stripping the health care provision and sending the spending bill back to the House, the speech wasn't a true filibuster.

That didn't stop Cruz' quixotic talkathon, during which eight Republicans joined him on the Senate floor, including Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Cruz yielded to them for questions, but because he did not give up his time, he kept control of the debate.

"It is my hope, my fervent hope, that the voices of dissension within the Republican conference will stop firing at each other and start firing" at the target of the health care law, said Cruz in a clear acknowledgment of GOP opposition.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the GOP's No. 2, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, opposed Cruz' tactic, and numerous Republicans stood with their leadership rather than Cruz.

"I think we'd all be hard-pressed to explain why we were opposed to a bill that we're in favor of," McConnell told reporters. "And invoking cloture on a bill that defunds Obamacare, it doesn't raise taxes, and respects the Budget Control Act strikes me as a no-brainer."

McConnell told rank-and-file senators privately and reporters publicly that the GOP should not speak as long as the rules permit on the legislation, for fear it would give them little time to try to turn the political tables on Democrats or to avoid a possible shutdown.

Delaying tactics could push a final vote into the weekend, just days before the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. That would give Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Republicans little time to come up with a new bill.

McConnell told reporters that if the House doesn't get a Senate-passed bill until Monday, lawmakers there would be in a tough spot.

"Delaying the opportunity for the House to send something back, it seems, plays right into the hands of Senate Democrats," Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said. "If I'm Harry (Reid), what I'd hope would happen is you wait until the very last minute to send something over to the House."

Asked whether there were any efforts in the GOP meeting to persuade Cruz and Lee to speed up Senate debate, Corker said, "The discussion came up about the advantage of having House Republicans weigh in again. And there were two senators who did not like that idea, not to name who they are."

The bill would keep the government operating until Dec. 15 and gut Obamacare.

Sen. Dick Durbin, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, said Democrats favor a spending bill that would keep the government running until Nov. 15, which would force Congress to work sooner on a more sweeping piece of legislation — known as an omnibus spending bill — that he hopes would reverse some automatic spending cuts known as sequestration.

Despite Cruz' effort, a test vote was set for today. Reid had filed a motion to proceed to the measure, and under Senate rules lawmakers will vote even if Cruz speaks for hours and keeps the Senate in session overnight.

In one exchange late Tuesday, Durbin mentioned that the Princeton and Harvard-educated Cruz had gone to "some very famous schools," and then pressed the Texan on the fact that the numbers simply don't add up for him to prevail. Cruz said he wasn't delusional and insisted that his move was the first of many steps to unravel the law.

In another exchange, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., pointed to Obama's re-election as the electorate's word on the health care law. Cruz said Obama was a "far more talented candidate" than Mitt Romney and won the 2012 election despite the health care law.

Outside conservative groups implored members to call lawmakers and demand that they stand with Cruz .

The issue has roiled the Republican Party, exacerbating the divide between tea party conservatives and GOP incumbents who repeatedly have voted against the health care law but now find themselves on the defensive. Republican senators said defunding Obamacare simply won't happen with a Democratic president and Democrats controlling the Senate.

"It will be a cold day in Gila Bend, Ariz., before we defund Obamacare," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. "A very cold day. In fact there may be a snowstorm. … I know how this movie ends. I don't know all the scenes before it ends, but I know how it ends. We don't defund Obamacare."