WASHINGTON -- Ignoring the wishes of the White House and the Senate, the House of Representatives passed a stopgap funding bill Friday that will shut down the government unless Democrats agree to defund President Barack Obama's marquee health care law.
While the House voted 230 to 189 to pass the measure that Democrats have called unacceptable, Republicans insisted their bill does nothing to shutter the federal government.
"It simply keeps the lights on in our government," said Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, on Friday.
Rogers, whose committee is effectively short-circuited by the three-month stopgap bill, said almost nothing about the Affordable Care Act, but House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) made clear that the main point of the measure is to block the health care law.
"This resolution will also protect the working middle class from the devastating effects of Obamacare," said Cantor. "Let's defund this law now, and protect the American people from the economic calamity that we know Obamacare will create."
The vote marked the 42nd time that the House Republican conference has said yes to gutting Obamacare. While some tweaks have been made to the program, the Senate has ignored nearly everything the House has pushed for.
Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.), who faces reelection in a district that Obama carried in 2012, was the only Republican to vote against the bill. Rigell has bucked his party on fiscal matters before; he appeared with the president at an event in February opposing sequestration and even took a ride aboard Air Force One.
Rigell released a statement in which he said he agreed that Obamacare should be defunded, but couldn't support a bill that would set government spending levels at sequester levels.
"This [continuing resolution] fails to address the sequester that is negatively impacting those who wear our nation’s uniform and is the result of Congress' inability to pass the 12 appropriations bills necessary to properly fund the government on time," Rigell said. "What is needed is a comprehensive solution to our nation’s fiscal challenges, including a replacement for sequestration."
On the Democratic side, Reps. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) and Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) were the only two lawmakers to vote in favor of the bill. The blue dog Democrats have often voted across party lines in the past.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) slammed the bill in a floor speech ahead of the vote, saying that the measure "was designed to shut down the government."
"It could have no other intent. Its purpose is clear," Pelosi said. "It is a wolf in wolf's clothing."
"Either you don't know what you are doing, or this is one of the most intentional acts of brutality that you have cooked up, with stiff competition for that honor," she added, while underscoring the damaging effects the bill would have on a program that provides health insurance to more than 8 million moderate-income children.
The continuing resolution would not only permanently strip the Affordable Care Act of its funding, but would lock in government spending at sequester levels that conflict with the budget passed in the Senate. It also sets up another potentially even more consequential showdown over the nation's debt limit, by including the so-called Full Faith and Credit Act, a measure that Republicans say would allow the Treasury Department to still pay the nation's creditors, and therefore avoid a default, if the debt limit, now at $16.7 trillion, is not raised sometime next month.
Democrats have dubbed that measure the "Pay China First Act," pointing out that it would prioritize payments to U.S. bondholders, which include many foreign governments like China, while obligations such as Medicare and military benefits would be placed on the backburner.
While leaders such as Cantor insisted that the legislation was responsible, many members of his own party, including more than a dozen senators, have called the move "foolish" and "dumb."
Even Rogers seemed aware of the potential pitfalls of the stratagem.
"I'd like to remind my colleagues … both in the House and the other body that a government shutdown is a political game in which everyone loses," Rogers said. "It shirks one of our most basic duties as members of Congress, and it puts our national security at stake. To be clear, if this legislation is not enacted and we embark on a government shutdown, the consequences are severe."
"Our brave men and women in uniform don't get paid, our recovering economy will take a huge hit," he added. "A government shutdown, even the illusion of the threat of a shutdown, says to the American people that this Congress does not have their best interests at heart."
This story has been updated with the names of those House lawmakers who did not vote with their party on the stopgap funding bill.
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