WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) -Sen. Ted Cruz's marathon talking protest of President Obama's health care law continued Wednesday morning, as the Senate headed toward a procedural vote on a bill that would continue its funding.
Cruz began his talkathon Tuesday afternoon, vowing to speak on the Senate floor "until I am no longer able to stand." Technically under Senate rules, Cruz's tactic is not a filibuster because the Texas Republican cannot prevent the Senate from having a scheduled procedural vote later Wednesday.
Shortly before 7 a.m. ET, Cruz passed Sen. William Proxmire, D-Wis., who spoke on the Senate floor for 16 hours, 12 minutes in 1981 to protest raising the nation's debt limit. In terms of time spent controlling the floor, Cruz has passed such legendary Senate talkers as Robert Byrd, Alfonse D'Amato and Huey Long as he brought attention to Obama's signature domestic achievement.
GOP Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Marco Rubio of Florida both arrived in the Senate chamber before dawn Wednesday to ask questions of Cruz, so he didn't have to speak the whole time.
Overnight, Cruz filled time by talking about the Revolutionary War, the battle against the Nazis, reading tweets from supporters and even reciting Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham.
Cruz also shared "words of wisdom" from the reality TV show Duck Dynasty and quoted much of country music singer Toby Keith's song Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.
Cruz took a moment to embrace the "wacko bird" label Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., used to refer to him and other conservative Republicans back in March.
"If it reflects a fidelity to the Constitution, a fidelity to liberty, a willingness to fight, to defend the principles this country was founded on," then Cruz said he and his colleagues were "very proud wacko birds."
The conservative-driven effort to defund Obamacare on a stopgap spending bill now under debate in Congress has raised the threat of a government shutdown Oct. 1.
Cruz and Lee have led the defund effort despite criticism from Senate Republicans who view their tactics as short-sighted because there is no chance of passage up against a Democratic-led Senate and Obama's veto pen.
Lee took the floor to denounce the Affordable Care Act as a first step toward a government-run health care system, "funded, operated and administered entirely from Washington, D.C."
Lee referred to the Supreme Court ruling that declared Obamacare to be constitutional as a "lawless act" and "something that we should be ashamed of as Americans."
In one 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 didn't see the 2012 election as a referendum on the health care law.
Despite the Republican senators' efforts, the chamber is on track to clear a key procedural hurdle Wednesday to ultimately advance a stopgap spending bill that leaves intact Obama's health care law.
"Filibusters stop people from voting, and we are going to vote tomorrow," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Tuesday. Cruz took to the Senate floor at 2:41 p.m., but under Senate rules Reid will be able to hold a procedural vote to take up the stopgap spending bill around noon Wednesday no matter how long Cruz intends to speak.
Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Reid, posted on Twitter that Cruz and Reid had pre-negotiated the terms of Cruz's floor time.
The House-passed spending bill under debate in the Senate maintains the current annual $986 billion funding levels across the federal government through Dec. 15 but includes a provision to defund the Affordable Care Act. The Senate's vote on Wednesday would essentially clear the way for a final up-or-down vote by the weekend, but Reid is going to strip out the language eliminating spending for the health care law, which is why Cruz and his allies are using blocking tactics.
Senate Democrats also intend to change the time period of the stopgap spending bill to Nov. 15, in order to nudge lawmakers closer toward passing the annual spending bills instead of relying on stopgap measures. "The best way to stop lurching on this crisis to the next crisis is to get back into funding our government the way the Founding Fathers set it out, through the appropriations process," Reid said.
Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said she will be seeking a longer-term resolution to the dozen fiscal year spending bills that remain unfinished. Democrats are also seeking ways to use the annual spending bills to turn off unpopular, across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester for up to two years.
The majority of Senate Republicans have said they oppose Cruz's tactics on the stopgap spending bill, in part because of fears of political repercussions for being blamed for a government shutdown, which will occur Oct. 1 if Congress doesn't pass it.
The chamber's top two Republicans, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Monday that they will not vote with Cruz on Wednesday, a clear signal that there are the 60 votes necessary to move forward with the debate on the spending bill.
"We'd all be hard-pressed to explain why we were opposed to a bill we were in favor of," McConnell said Tuesday, noting that the vote Wednesday will allow debate on a bill that includes the defund language since Reid has not had the opportunity to strip it out yet.
However, Republicans continue to unanimously oppose Obamacare as a matter of policy, which begins open enrollment on Oct. 1, and are seeking other avenues to dismantle the law.
For example, House Republicans are working to approve a legislative package tied to a debt-ceiling vote increase expected next month that would delay implementation for one year in exchange for suspending the nation's borrowing limit through next year.
Obama has maintained that he will not negotiate on the debt ceiling because of the potentially sweeping economic repercussions that could arise from the United States defaulting on its debt payments.