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House vote sets stage for government shutdown

House Republicans refuse to back down on trying to stop Obama's healthcare law, drawing the government to the edge of a shutdown.

September 28, 2013|By Lisa Mascaro and Michael A. Memoli
  • Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) leaves a meeting with House Republicans, who remain intent on trying to stop President Obama's healthcare law even at the risk of a government shutdown.
Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) leaves a meeting with House Republicans,… (Michael Reynolds / European…)

WASHINGTON — Launching a risky strategy that draws the federal government to the edge of a shutdown, House Republicans doubled down on their drive to stop President Obama's healthcare law as a condition for keeping federal offices running past the midnight Monday deadline.

The hard-line approach failed last week in the Senate, but House Republican leaders saw little choice but to cater to the demands of their right flank and try again, setting up a rare Saturday night session. Tea party lawmakers who say they believe ordinary Americans want to end the Affordable Care Act have committed to that goal, even if Republicans are blamed for shutting down routine government services for the first time in nearly two decades.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) was cheered with chants of "Vote! Vote! Vote!" as he outlined the proposal during a noon meeting in the Capitol basement. After midnight Saturday, the House approved the plan, sending legislation to the Senate to fund the government through Dec. 15 but delay the rollout of the healthcare law for one year and repeal the law's tax on medical-device manufacturers. A separate bill was unanimously approved to ensure that military troops continue to be paid if there is a shutdown.

House Republicans appeared unswayed by the certainty that this latest effort is doomed in the Senate, where Democrats have the majority, or by stern warnings from the White House, which promised a veto and said the amendments "advance a narrow ideological agenda and threaten the nation's economy."

The president's spokesman warned Republicans against pursuing this "reckless and irresponsible" path. "Today, Republicans in the House of Representatives moved to shut down the government," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. "The president has shown that he is willing to improve the healthcare law and meet Republicans more than halfway to deal with our fiscal challenges, but he will not do so under threats of a government shutdown that will hurt our economy."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) vowed Saturday that Americans would not be "extorted by tea party anarchists."

"To be absolutely clear, the Senate will reject both the one-year delay of the Affordable Care Act and the repeal of the medical-device tax," he said in a statement. "After weeks of futile political games from Republicans, we are still at square one."

The Senate, which was not expected to resume work on the bill until Monday, could operate under rules that require only a simple majority to reject the Republican amendments, a leadership aide said. That could leave the House on the hook to pass the government funding bill later Monday or launch a shutdown.

Boehner would then have few choices. He could try to approve a stopgap measure to keep the government running for a short time as talks continue or try to attach more modest changes to the healthcare law. He could also simply abandon his most conservative colleagues and seek a bipartisan coalition with Democrats to continue to fund the government and prevent a shutdown, risking the ire of his majority.

In the afternoon, Boehner walked through the crowded Speaker's Lobby off the House chamber for a smoke break on the balcony, but declined to answer reporters' questions.

The gloomy prospect of an economic disruption that could be triggered by furloughed federal workers and closed museums, parks and government operations on Tuesday, the first day of the new fiscal year, was no match for the enthusiasm of GOP lawmakers filling the halls of the Capitol on Saturday.

"Did you hear all the hooting and hollering?" said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), as rank-and-file lawmakers spilled out of a private strategy session. "The conference is pretty unified. Ready to fight on."

A day earlier, it had seemed that the Republican Party's far-right flank had exhausted its efforts after the Senate defeated its bid to halt federal funding for the healthcare law. Boehner remained largely silent and out of sight.

But the failed GOP effort in the Senate led by tea party Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) appeared only to energize the conservative flank in the House. Cruz held the Senate floor for more than 21 hours to denounce the law, also known as Obamacare, and encouraged his compatriots in the House to carry on the fight. More than 60 GOP lawmakers pledged their support of a one-year delay of the law.

With such overwhelming numbers, Boehner had few options but to embrace their strategy lest he loosen an already wobbly grip on his increasingly defiant GOP majority.

"He saw folks coalescing around a concept," said Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.), who led the effort to delay Obamacare in the House. "It's one step at a time."

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