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What you need to know about Obamacare, possible shutdown

By Z. Byron Wolf, CNN
updated 8:13 AM EDT, Wed September 25, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Split screen: Ted Cruz in Senate marathon while Obama tries to sell healthcare to skeptical public
  • No matter what Cruz does, Senate plans first test vote funding/Obamacare controversy Wednesday
  • The matter would eventually head back to House. What is Boehner's strategy then?
  • Shutdown scenarios: Much of the government would actually be open; DC trash collection an issue

(CNN) -- Here's what you need to know on Wednesday about Obamacare and a potential government shutdown.

There was a split screen on Tuesday night. On one side, President Barack Obama tried again to explain his signature law to the public while on the other, firebrand Republican Sen. Ted Cruz got deeper into an ill-fated attempt to filibuster a short-term spending bill over funding for the health care law.

The question of whether the government will shut down over the controversy is still very real as the legislation to fund government programs past September 30 inches back toward the House, where the Republicans who lead that chamber could feasibly refuse to consider it.

The reason both houses of Congress may not be able to agree on a funding plan -- also known as a continuing resolution -- is that some senators and representatives see this as their last chance to stop Obamacare.

Ted Cruz all night long

Cruz: Speech to last until I can't stand
Rick Santorum: 'I would be with Ted Cruz'
Sen. Ted Cruz's war on Obamacare
Peter King: Ted Cruz 'is a fraud'

At 2:41 p.m. Cruz took to the Senate floor and said he'd talk "until he could no longer stand." But it isn't like the Alamo. The Senate will hold its first procedural vote on the issue regardless of what Cruz does. So the biggest open question in Washington right now is whether Cruz' effort is a filibuster. It is to the extent that he delayed the vote until 1 p.m and created a 60 vote threshold. That distinguishes from the filibusters Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican, launched against the nomination of CIA Director John Brennan in the Senate and the one Wendy Davis, the Democratic state senator in Texas launched against an abortion bill. Those efforts succeeded in delaying votes. But it should also be noted they, like Cruz's effort, were ultimately in vain. Brennan was confirmed. The Texas law restriction abortion rights passed. Paul was one of the many Republicans who came to the Senate floor to aid Cruz. And at dawn, Cruz was still going strong, talking up a storm.

Obama tries (again) to sell Obamacare

While Ted Cruz was on the Senate floor talking about the "horrors" of Obamacare, the Democratic president was in New York doing an interview with former President Bill Clinton (also known around the White House as secretary of explaining stuff) about the benefits of the law. Cruz talked about how small businesses and chain restaurants are dealing with new rules that will require them to provide health insurance to more workers starting in 2015. Obama talked about how all Americans will have access to insurance, regardless of pre-existing conditions, and how the law puts caps on how much companies can charge for insurance. Obama takes his side of the argument to a community college in Maryland on Thursday.

What does Cruz want?

After Cruz? Back to Boehner

Ted Cruz created a little speed bump in the slow-motion kabuki that is leading the government funding bill back to John Boehner's desk. Cruz's filibuster attempt is likely to be foiled at 1 p.m. on Wednesday. It could still take the Senate a few days to pass a funding bill that preserves Obamcare. But Democrats have proven they have the votes to move ahead. So the action will soon move back to House Speaker John Boehner. All indications are that senators will late this week or over the weekend pass a bill to avert a shutdown. But they'll strip out the anti-Obamacare language. And Boehner, at that point, will have to either seek help from Democrats to pass what Senators give him. Or he'll have to let the shutdown occur and look for a quick better deal.

Here's what to look for in a shutdown

What shuts down? Not as much as you think

What would a shutdown actually look like? The funny thing about a government shutdown is that not that much shuts down. Yes, parks are closed and most of the Education Department stays home. But the military comes to work. Social Security and Medicare payments go out. Planes fly. The mail comes. Courts operate for a few weeks. Things get worse the longer it lasts. The rest of the federal government is also busy at work updating their shutdown contingency plans. USA Today crunched the numbers and guessed Tuesday that during a shutdown, about 41 percent of the government actually stops doing business.

Pentagon wouldn't shut down, but wouldn't get paid

Just because large numbers of government workers would be reporting in doesn't mean they would get paid. Pay special attention to the Pentagon, where 1.4 million military personnel who would be expected to work would have to pick up the slack for the 800,000 agency employees who might be furloughed. As one Pentagon official told Barbara Starr, "We're incensed at the prospect of a government shutdown. We've just gotten over civilian furloughs, are posturing for potential military action in Syria, have our guard up elsewhere, and are dealing with the continuing effects of sequestration. Making matters worse, think about Afghanistan and troops who might not be paid on time--and their families. It's totally irresponsible." In addition the official told her death benefits would not be paid to families of fallen soldiers.

Will D.C. mayor break the law to maintain trash pickup?

In Washington, the mayor and City Council might consider an effort to ignore the shutdown. A federal shutdown hits the capital harder than any other city. First, federal workers could be furloughed. But more importantly, the city's finances are controlled by Congress. D.C.'s trash collection and other basic services, for instance, could experience hiccups. The mayor, as a result, is reportedly considering breaking federal law to keep the city's services going in the event of a shutdown. He's expected to announce a plan Wednesday.

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