Republican tensions grew Thursday as Tea Party-aligned senators rejected a bid to speed up the vote on a bill to fund the government while defunding ObamaCare, with one senior lawmaker accusing his colleagues of posturing -- as the chances of a government shutdown increased.
The flurry of activity occurred late Thursday afternoon on the Senate floor. With lawmakers facing a Sept. 30 deadline to pass a spending bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tried to get approval to hold key votes on Thursday, in order to give the House more time to consider the legislation.
But Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, objected, along with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. That puts off the next vote until Friday.
Their complaints prompted a tense encounter on the floor with Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who suggested the only reason they want to wait until Friday is because they want to turn the vote into a show for supporters.
"This is confusing to me," Corker said. "I'm understanding the reason we're waiting is that y'all have sent out releases and emails and you want everybody to be able to watch. It just doesn't seem to me that that's in our nation's interest."
Cruz later said: "I think it is unfortunate that any member of the United States Senate should want our votes to occur outside of the view of the American people."
The brief dispute underscored the divide in the GOP over this vote.
The bill itself, passed by the House last week, would keep the government open past Sept. 30 and defund the health care law. Senators like Cruz, who spoke for more than 21 hours on the Senate floor in opposition to ObamaCare, support this language.
However, Cruz and others plan to oppose the test vote on Friday -- because they say Reid, as his next step, will strip out the ObamaCare provision and promptly send the bill back to the House.
They argue that anybody who votes to advance the bill on Friday is effectively voting to restore funding to the health law.
Other Republicans argue that this position is counterintuitive, and have indicated support for the upcoming vote.
This has led to some nasty infighting.
After Corker challenged Cruz and Lee on the floor, the conservative Club for Growth -- which wants Republicans to oppose the bill on Friday -- tweeted: "Senator Corker effectively became a Democrat just now on the Senate floor."
If Reid can muster the 60 votes it takes to advance the bill, he is expected to re-fund the health care law and easily pass the "clean" bill out of the chamber.
With the current timetable, the House would probably not get the bill until Friday or Saturday.
That leaves little time for lawmakers to figure out their next move. Majority Republicans could choose to accept the Senate package, in turn keeping the government open past Monday -- they could then focus on a separate bill that would delay the health care law in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, which is the next fight on the horizon.
Or, Republicans could try once again to undermine the health law, bringing D.C. to the brink of a shutdown.
House Speaker John Boehner indicated Thursday that he plans to keep fighting. Asked if he'd accept the Senate bill as is, he said: "I do not see that happening."