Senator Ted Cruz ended his overnight assault on the new health care program at noon Wednesday after more than 21 hours on the Senate floor, clearing the way for a test vote on a plan to finance the government after Oct. 1 only if money is denied for the health law.
"My plea to this body is that we listen to the American people," said Mr. Cruz, Republican of Texas, as he wrapped up his effort to block Democrats from moving ahead with a plan to restore funding.
But Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader who sparred with Mr. Cruz briefly, predicted Mr. Cruz would lose despite his all night talk-a-thon.
"He has spoken and at 1 o'clock the Senate will speak," Mr. Reid said.
At 1 p.m., Republicans and Democrats are expected to vote overwhelmingly to move ahead so the Senate can begin considering a bill, approved by the House last week, that would finance most of the government but not the Affordable Care Act.
By the end, Mr. Cruz was looking weary, his eyes slightly droopy. He had loosened his tie. Stacks of thick three-ring binders — containing his notes and other materials he read aloud — were scattered around his feet and on the desks near where he stood.
A spokesman for Mr. Reid said Wednesday morning that Mr. Cruz had not left the Senate floor since he began speaking on Tuesday. He has had intermittent breaks from talking while other senators like Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky have posed open-ended and sometimes long-winded questions that allowed the senator from Texas to pace around and stretch his legs.
The scene inside the Senate chamber in the late night and early morning hours was sometimes an unusual one for the staid body, especially when Mr. Cruz paused briefly in his attack to read his two young daughters a bedtime story — "Green Eggs and Ham" by Dr. Seuss.
At other times, he compared his fight to efforts by leaders who stood against the Nazis, ended the cold war or started the American Revolution.
"Everyone in America knows Obamacare is destroying the economy," said Mr. Cruz, who began speaking at 2:41 p.m. "Where is the urgency?"
His speech was already rivaling some of the longest Senate filibusters on record, including those by Robert M. La Follette, who spoke for 18 hours and 23 minutes in 1908 and Alfonse D'Amato, who went on for 23 hours and 30 minutes in 1986. The record was set by Strom Thurmond at 24 hours and 18 minutes in 1957.
Mr. Cruz called on his colleagues to stonewall the House measure they technically supported, arguing that Senate Democrats would be successful in stripping the health care provision from the funding bill once the way was cleared to a Senate vote on the issue. His basic demand was an agreement that a final vote require 60 supporters, a demand Democrats rejected.
Other Republicans said they saw no reason to oppose debating a measure they actually backed.
"We'd be hard-pressed to explain why we were opposed to a bill we're in favor of," said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader.
Others warned of political repercussions if Republicans, who hope to regain control of the Senate in the elections next year, were seen as contributing to a shuttering of the government. "Getting the majority in the Senate in 2014 is possible, and we don't want to go down roads that make it harder," said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who is up for re-election next year. "Repealing Obamacare is a goal all Republicans share," he added, "but the tactics of achieving that goal can have a backlash."
Mr. Cruz's critics have said that he is not engaging in a filibuster in the sense it is most commonly understood: a tactic meant to block legislation from moving forward. But Senate historians said that there is, in fact, no hard-and-fast definition for the word.
"The filibuster is not just to delay legislative action," said Katherine Scott, a historian for the Senate Historical Office. "It's been used in a lot of ways, and one way has been to draw attention to a particular issue a member has concern about."
Senior Senate Republicans pushed Mr. Cruz on Tuesday to give up his stalling tactics and let the Senate take its final votes as soon as possible to strip out the health care language and other policy prescriptions, then approve new language to keep the government operating until mid-November. An early vote would give the House speaker, John A. Boehner, more time to plan his next move: whether to put the Senate-passed bill up for a vote and ensure no government shutdown or to add new Republican-favored language and send it back to the Senate.
Some Senate Republicans suggested a quick vote on a stopgap spending measure could allow the House to attach a measure related to the Affordable Care Act but one that could split Democrats and possibly become law. The obvious target would be a tax on medical devices that helps finance the law, but which has strong opponents in both parties. House Republicans are also considering adding a one-year delay in the individual mandate.
Such procedural niceties carried little weight with the conservative activists backing Mr. Cruz, and the conservative advocacy groups egging them on. Phone lines were jammed by Cruz supporters. E-mails flew, encouraged by organizations like the Tea Party Patriots and the Heritage Foundation. The Senate Conservative Fund, a group that has been running advertisements attacking Republicans who are not supporting the "defund Obamacare" effort, called Mr. McConnell and the No. 2 Senate Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, "turncoats."
But most Republicans showed little fear of a backlash for voting to take up the House bill. "If this is what you wanted, consideration of this bill, I don't know how you can be against taking it up," said Senator Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina.
Mr. Reid moved Tuesday to change the House-passed bill, shortening the stopgap spending measure so it would finance the government only through mid-November instead of mid-December. Senator Barbara Mikulski, the Democrat from Maryland who leads the Appropriations Committee, requested the change to raise pressure on the House to address the automatic spending cuts that are squeezing federal programs and are reflected in the spending plan passed by the House.
But such narrow issues took a back seat to Mr. Cruz's crusade, with bit parts granted to his Senate Republican supporters. They included Mr. Rubio, Mike Lee of Utah, Pat Roberts of Kansas, David Vitter of Louisiana, Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Mr. Paul, whose own filibuster this year over the government's use of lethal drone strikes lasted 12 hours and 52 minutes.
Topics Mr. Cruz addressed included his affection for the little hamburgers at White Castle, the fast-food chain that says its growth is slowing because of the health care law, and a tough-love speech by Ashton Kutcher. He doled out insults to the Washington establishment, blasting politicians in "cheap suits" and "bad haircuts," and branding journalistic fact-checking as a "particularly pernicious bit of yellow journalism." At one point, he read some of his daughters' favorite stories.
Under the current timetable, the Senate will vote Wednesday to cut off debate on a motion to take up the House bill and vote Thursday to actually take up the House bill. Mr. Reid will then introduce his version of the stopgap spending bill, stripped of the health care language and other policy measures.
The real showdown vote will probably come on Saturday, when the Senate votes to cut off debate on Mr. Reid's version of the bill. If that receives 60 votes, a final vote would come on Sunday, leaving the House one day to act before much of the government closes its doors.
That would give Mr. Boehner a stark choice: pass a short-term spending bill with Democratic votes and risk the wrath of conservative activists or try again to take a bit out of the health care law with no time left on the clock and ensure a shutdown.
"I don't know what all the scenes are, but I've seen how this movie ends," said Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona. "We will end up not shutting the government down, and we will not defund Obamacare."
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Original headline: After 21 Hours, Cruz Ends Senate Speech
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