Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, continues to hold forth on the Senate floor. But he is limited in how long he can talk.
Noon is the magic time. Here's what comes next.
The Senate has been on automatic pilot since Monday, bound for a big procedural vote on trying to call up the continuing resolution -- the budget measure -- to fund the government and simultaneously defund ObamaCare. The vote is spurred by a so-called cloture petition, which "ripens," by rule, one hour after the Senate meets today.
Technically, the Senate is still in yesterday's legislative session. So just before noon, if Cruz is still going, the presiding officer will ask him to yield and briefly gavel the Senate out of session for a few seconds.
At noon, the Senate will return to session, in a brand new legislative "day." There will be the pledge, the prayer and perhaps some opening remarks from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Then, the rest of the "hour" has to tick off the clock to get to the procedural vote at 1 p.m.
Cruz could very well continue to speak during that hour if he desires.
At 1 p.m., the Senate begins to vote on "the motion to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed" to the CR/defund health care law bill. What that means in lay terms is that the Senate is trying to end the delay in calling up for debate the actual CR/defund health care bill sent over from the House of Representatives. This procedural vote is a cloture vote, meaning it needs 60 yeas. It should get that, including support from some Republicans. Some Republicans like this bill in its current state, because in defunding Obamacare, it is exactly what they wanted.
So cloture would presumably be invoked around 1:30 p.m. or so.
But there's a wrinkle: The Senate cannot yet advance to the CR/defund Obamacare bill.
By rule, opponents of invoking cloture are afforded 30 hours of additional debate before the Senate can actually call up the bill. Those 30 hours can be burned either by talking on the floor or letting the time tick off the clock.
This is important, as from a procedural standpoint, this is the first true delay in getting to the bill, and time is running short with the House waiting to get something back from the Senate, and the government due to run out of money and shut down at 12:00:01 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 1.
This is where some Democrats and Republicans may really start to sweat, as they want the Senate to address the bill expeditiously and give the House enough time to tackle a revamped bill.
So, if opponents require the 30 hours, the clock will start again -- again putting the Senate on autopilot and getting to a vote to proceed to the bill (needing 51 yeas) Thursday evening.
Then it gets really interesting.
As majority leader, Reid has first dibs on getting recognized.
He will do two things: He will immediately file two amendments, thus filling the Senate's amendment "tree" and blocking all other senators from altering the bill. That is Reid's right as majority leader. One amendment will be technical. Another will be a "substitute" amendment wiping out the entire House bill. The "new" amendment, will fund health care, run the government and, unlike the House bill, pay for programs through Nov. 15, not Dec. 15 which was the deadline in the House bill.
Then the entire process which Reid started on Monday begins all over again.
Reid will file another cloture petition, this to cut off all debate on the entire bill.
That petition will not "ripen" until Saturday. So I am told that the Senate will meet on Saturday at 12:00:01 a.m. and start a second cloture vote around 1:01 a.m. Saturday. This requires 60 votes and would cut off all debate on the bill.
The question is whether Cruz and others may burn the time on the floor by speaking between Thursday night and early Saturday morning. Or, if they just let the hours tick off the clock.
So prospectively, the Senate will invoke cloture to end all debate on the bill around 1:30 a.m. Saturday.
Then, the opponents have yet another 30 hours to burn, just like last time.
That gets lawmakers to 7:00 a.m. Sunday.
It is entirely possible the Senate may move that time back until midday. But that is unclear.
Regardless, the Senate would vote either Sunday morning or midday on passing the revamped bill and zip it back to the House.
The House then has all day Monday and part of the day Sunday to either accept the Senate bill ... or change things and send it back to the Senate.
But time is running short.