Friday, September 20, 2013

 

House votes to fund government,gut Obamacare

The House approved legislation on Friday to keep the government open past Sept. 30, but also to eliminate funding for "Obamacare."

The vote marked an opening gambit by the GOP just 10 days before the deadline at which the government will run out of money, causing a myriad of federal services to cease. The provision gutting health care reform was intended to mollify conservatives who have vowed not to fund the government unless the landmark law is eradicated.

But the measure faces almost certain doom in the Senate, where Democrats have said they would vote to restore funding for the Affordable Care Act. And even if they were to fail, President Barack Obama has flatly promised to veto the bill.

The posturing by the Republican-controlled House means Washington now faces a narrow window of opportunity to reach an ever-elusive consensus over how to continue government operations, and avoid a politically-costly shutdown.

If no resolution is reached, a shutdown threatens to harm the economy and place scores of government workers out of work for an undetermined period of time. Wall Street appeared unconcerned by the developments, though, expecting lawmakers to reach an 11th-hour accord as they have in virtually every previous showdown.

Still, Friday's vote set up a tense series of negotiations between Obama, Republicans and Democrats in the Senate over the next 10 days. In the House, 230 lawmakers -- mostly Republicans -- voted to defund Obamacare as part of the stopgap spending measure; 189 lawmakers, mostly Democrats, opposed the legislation.
"Our message to the United States Senate is very simple: the American people don't want the government shut down, and they don't want Obamacare," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told cheering colleagues after the vote.


But the vote was hardly the conclusion of the debate on Capitol Hill over health care reform, and a possible government shutdown. As an implicit acknowledgement that its work had not yet wrapped up, the House has canceled a planned recess next week in anticipation of the frenetic work it will take to cobble together a compromise to keep the government open that can win the support of Congress.

As the GOP readied the vote, Obama traveled to Kansas, where he was expected to sharply denounce the GOP's approach to the fiscal impasse.

"The last thing we can afford right now is a decision by a minority of Republicans in Congress to throw our economy back into crisis by refusing to pay our country's bills or shutting down the government," said a White House official on Friday morning. "Instead of playing politics with the economy, Republicans in Congress should join the president to focus on creating a better bargain for the middle class."

The action will next play out in the Senate, where Democrats command a majority of votes. The upper chamber is expected to strip any measure to undermine the Affordable Care Act from the House-passed bill, though that has invited a filibuster threat from some hard-lined conservative senators.

But if history is any guide, several Senate Republicans -- at least 13 of whom have openly disparaged the effort to use the threat of a government shutdown as leverage to defund Obamacare -- may work to assemble a compromise spending measure to send back to the House. That could provide the contours of an eventual agreement.

Still looming, though, is the more politically-tricky prospect of having to authorize increased government borrowing -- known as the debt limit -- sometime next month. Republicans met Friday morning to discuss their strategy in that fight, and have long signaled they might seek a more modest, one-year delay of "Obamacare" in exchange for raising the debt limit.

Republicans' strident opposition to "Obamacare" has been well-established for years. The House has voted 40-some times to do away with either part or the entirety of the law since the GOP took power in 2011, each time having seen Senate Democrats dismiss their efforts.

This time, though, the strategy badly split Republicans, cleaving conservative hard-liners who had campaigned on doing as much as possible to eliminate the law from more pragmatic Republican lawmakers who have argued that the strategy is unrealistic, given the partisan makeup of the Senate.

The internal divisions have spilled into public view in recent days, with barbs directed toward Sen. Ted Cruz, the figurehead of the effort to defund Obamacare, after the Texas Republican conceded he lacked the votes to make good on his threat to stop Obamacare in the Senate.

Cruz only turned up the pressure on the GOP-led House, thereby putting House Republicans in a more difficult position once the legislation inevitably returns to them.

In that sense, Friday's vote was a bid by some Republicans to go through pained motions to demonstrate to the party's conservative grassroots that the strategy favored by Cruz and other hard-liners was doomed, and would risk a government shutdown that could turn politically dangerous for the GOP.


"It's something we have to do. It's a step in the right direction," Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said ahead of Friday's House vote. "And hopefully it will be a major step in letting people know that Ted Cruz is a fraud and and he'll no longer have any influence in the Republican Party."
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