The Democratic-led US Senate easily cleared a hurdle to averting a government shutdown after a Republican lawmaker ended a 21-hour speech aimed at using the measure to derail President Barack Obama's signature health care overhaul.
Senators voted unanimously to allow a temporary spending bill to be officially laid before the Senate, one of several steps needed to move forward with the measure. Another key vote is expected by tomorrow, with an October 1 deadline looming to keep the government fully operating.
But a showdown looms over a provision in the bill to defund the three-year-old health care law, which aims to extend insurance coverage to millions. The Senate is all but certain to strip the legislation of that language, which the Republican-controlled House of Representatives included in an attempt to dismantle Obama's most important domestic accomplishment.
The question is whether the House will approve the bill if the Senate sends it back as a straight-forward funding measure without the health care provision - or reject it and risk a government shutdown. To avoid a partial government shutdown, a single, agreed-upon version must be approved by Congress and signed by Obama by Tuesday.
The issue has roiled the Republican Party, exacerbating the divide between hard-right conservatives and more moderate party leaders who fear Republicans will get blamed if the government shuts down.
Encouraged by conservative groups, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, spoke all night and through morning in favour of using the spending bill to kill the health care law. He stopped talking after 21 hours, 19 minutes, with occasional remarks by other conservative senators.
Then he simply sat down and joined every other senator in the 100-0 procedural vote.
The Senate's top Democrat, Harry Reid, shrugged off Cruz's effort. "For lack of a better way of describing this, it has been a big waste of time," he said.
If no agreement is reached, the US risks a first-ever default on its obligations. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said the government would exhaust its borrowing authority by October 17, leaving the US just US$30 billion cash to pay its bills.