WASHINGTON (AP) - In a break with tea party-aligned Senate conservatives, Republican leader Mitch McConnell announced Monday he will not vote to block legislation aimed at preventing a partial government shutdown, even though Democrats intend to rewrite it to restore funds needed to keep the nation's three-year-old health care law in existence.
Referring to a bill the House passed last week, McConnell's spokesman said the Kentucky lawmaker supports the measure "and will not vote to block it, since it defunds Obamacare and funds the government without increasing spending by a penny."
The spokesman, Don Stewart, added that McConnell will vote against any Democratic attempt to restore funding for the health care law.
The announcement came shortly after Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said that anyone who votes to let the bill advance toward final passage will be choosing to allow the Democrats to restore the health care money by majority vote, one they will almost certainly win. "I think that vote disserves our constituents," he said.
With his announcement, McConnell put himself firmly in the camp of Republicans who are adamantly opposed to any partial government shutdown, no matter the other stakes involved.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., took the same position in comments to reporters. "How can I vote against a bill that I support," he asked rhetorically.
Democrats control 54 Senate votes, meaning they need six crossover Republicans to assure the spending bill does not fall victim to a filibuster that would doom its prospects. The announcements by McConnell and McCain likely indicate they will have no difficulty in gaining the support they need.
Cruz said last week he was prepared to filibuster any legislation that restores money for the health care law, even if it meant a shutdown. In remarks on the Senate floor during the day, though, he appeared to soften his tone.
"We should not have a government shutdown and we should never, ever, ever even discuss a default on the debt," he said. The House is expected to approve legislation this week that permits the Treasury to borrow freely for a year - preventing a first-ever default - while delaying the health care law for a year.