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Cruz vows to speak against Obamacare until he is 'no longer able to stand'

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By Michael O'Brien and Carrie Dann, NBC News

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz took to the Senate floor just after 2:41 p.m. on Tuesday, vowing to speak in opposition to Obamacare "until [he] is no longer able to stand."

"I rise today in opposition to Obamacare," Cruz said upon being recognized for what essentially amounts to  little more than a very, very long speech.  The speech is not formally considered a filibuster in the sense that it is not being used to hold up legislation, per se. The Senate will still proceed with a vote on Wednesday to take up legislation to fund the government (and defund Obamacre) passed last week by Republicans in the House.

"I intend to speak in support of defunding ObamaCare until I am no longer able to stand, to do everything that I can to help Americans stand together," the hard-charging Texas senator said.

Because of Majority Leader Harry Reid's move Monday to schedule a test vote on government funding for Wednesday morning, Cruz can't do anything on his own procedurally to delay the timing of that vote. Cruz did win help from several of his Republican colleagues throughout the speech.

When asked how long he planned to speak, Cruz offered a wry response to reporters on Capitol Hill: "We shall see."

If Cruz managed to keep the least 60 of his fellow senators from supporting that Wednesday vote, he could prevent cutting off debate on the budget bill – and that would be a filibuster. 

Cruz wants that procedural vote to fail, because – if the final government funding bill subsequently passed, Democrats would simply strip out the part of the legislation that deals with Obamacare, kicking the clean bill back to the House. 

But Cruz has only a few allies in that attempt. Most senior Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have said they will vote to cut off debate – which would enable Democrats to strip the provision to defund Obamacare, but – more importantly – also allow the process of reaching an agreement to fund the government to move forward.

On that note, Reid said Tuesday that he would seek to move forward with legislation to fund the government through mid-November, a more modest time frame than had initially been sought by lawmakers.

The political appeal, though, of a long speech – filibuster or no – is undeniable. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul earned the adulation of conservatives for a 13-hour filibuster he waged against the Obama administration's national security practices and its use of drones.

That said, Paul actually privately opposed Cruz's approach to the stopgap spending measure during a meeting with other GOP senators on Tuesday. Sources told NBC News that Paul joined with McConnell to help hasten the return of the spending measure to the House to give colleagues in the lower chamber more time to figure out how to proceed.

Cruz, like Paul, has possible designs on the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, and his speech against Obamacare – the program so hated by conservatives – could help endear him to the party's base.

NBC News' Kelly O'Donnell contributed reporting.

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