Friday: The House could pass a bill to raise the debt ceiling. An initial draft of the legislation contains something for everyone in the Republican Conference: It increases the debt limit until the end of 2014, delays Obamacare for a year and includes a grab bag of conservative goals, such as offshore drilling, Medicare means testing, a tax code overhaul and approval of the Keystone pipeline. The bill is designed to gain the necessary bare majority with GOP votes alone. But there’s no guarantee of that, because a significant number of House Republicans don’t believe in raising the debt limit under any circumstances.
In the Senate, this is the intervening day of debate on the last filibuster vote. Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), his conservative ally in this fight, have vowed to use any means necessary to try to hold up the continuing resolution. They may even launch into an old-fashioned talking filibuster, taking to the floor for hours at a time. These are rare in the modern Senate, since new rules have allowed the minority to block legislation with 41 votes, if it can hold together. A talking filibuster would be largely theatrical; Cruz and Lee won’t be able to stop the bill, because parliamentary procedures will have locked in the votes that are set to occur.
Saturday: The final filibuster-vote day in the Senate. One hour after senators convene, they will hold a vote that, if it receives 60 ayes, will end any filibuster attempt and lock in a time for a final vote on the bill. This is the point when things will get weird.
At this time, the continuing resolution will still have the exact language conservatives love — they begged Boehner to pass it, in fact — but Cruz and Lee will be opposing the bill for strategic reasons. That’s because once the measure clears this last 60-vote hurdle, Reid will call up his amendment to strip out the portion that defunds Obamacare. Having already avoided a filibuster, he’ll just need a simple majority to pass his amendment, then a simple majority to approve the new bill and send it back to the House. So the only recourse for conservatives is to try to preemptively filibuster their own bill, stopping it from coming to a vote. A vote to do that is, in effect, a vote to shut down the government, because the bill is the only vehicle to fund it. For that reason, it’s not likely that many Senate Republicans will go along with Cruz.
Sunday: By Sunday morning, Reid will have brought up his amendment to remove the health-care language from the bill. Final passage could come around dinnertime. The bill will then go across the Capitol to the House, with a countdown clock of roughly 30 hours until government funding expires.
Monday, Sept. 30: Boehner faces a momentous decision: He can either call a vote on the Senate bill that includes funding for the health-care law, or he can try to attach something else to it that gains a majority so he can send the bill back to the Senate as the deadline looms. At this point, it’s unclear what would be attached to the legislation and whether 218 Republicans would support it. Boehner could try a poison pill other than defunding Obamacare, but many Republicans may oppose it because a vote for it would be a vote for funding the health-care law.
If Boehner does go this route, and if he gets the votes, there will almost certainly be a shutdown.
If not, the question will be whether House leaders can get enough Republicans to join Democrats to pass the Senate bill and keep the government running.
This is where the debt-ceiling bill comes into play. House GOP leaders could argue to their caucus that they could use the October debt-limit deadline to take up the effort to defund the health-care law and avoid a painful shutdown in the meantime. Again, it’s entirely unclear whether enough Republicans would go along. If not, the government would shut down.