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McConnell breaks with Cruz on government funding measure

The Senate's top Republican won't oppose moving forward with the House-passed legislation to fund the government, breaking with Ted Cruz and conservatives on a key procedural issue.

A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that McConnell would not vote to block legislation passed last week by the House that would both fund the government past Sept. 30, but also strip funding for "Obamacare."

That puts him at odds with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the leader of an effort to hold up a stopgap spending measure to avert a shutdown unless Democrats relent, and agree to eliminate funding for President Barack Obama's health care reform law.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has started the procedural clock on the measure, setting the stage for a key test vote on the government funding bill on Wednesday morning. 

"Senator McConnell supports the House Republicans’ bill and will not vote to block it, since it defunds Obamacare and funds the government without increasing spending by a penny," said Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell.

McConnell's deputy, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, joined with the Kentucky senator.

"Sen. Cornyn will support the House bill that defunds Obamacare. He will not support a CR that funds it," said Drew Brandwie, a Cornyn spokesman.

Democrats control the majority in the Senate, effectively controlling 54 seats. Because of the peculiarity of Senate rules, Cruz is effectively stalling the very legislation he favors. He's doing that by demanding that Democrats meet the filibuster-proof supermajority of 60 votes to strip any provision to defund Obamcare from the legislation. That means a handful of Republicans would have to vote to end debate -- as McConnell said Monday he would do -- in order to allow the legislation to proceed.

In essence, McConnell and other Republicans' votes to move forward with the House-passed bill (over the objections of Cruz and others) will enable Democrats' eventual vote to strip the defund-Obamacare provision from the underlying legislation to keep the government open past Sept. 30.

"He will also vote against any amendment that attempts to add Obamacare funding back into the House Republicans’ bill," Stewart said in his statement. "If and when the Majority Leader goes down that path, Washington Democrats will have to decide—without hiding behind a procedural vote—whether or not to split with their leadership and join Republicans and their constituents in opposing the re-insertion of Obamacare funding into the House-passed bill."

NBC's Kasie Hunt contributed reporting.