POLITICS

Government Shutdown Threat Puts Pressure On House

09/28/2013 10:35 am ET | Updated Nov 28, 2013

By DAVID ESPO, The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Locked in a deepening struggle with President Barack Obama, House Republicans demanded a one-year delay in major parts of the nation's new health care law and permanent repeal of a tax on medical devices Saturday as the price for preventing a partial government shutdown threatened for early Tuesday.

Senate Democrats rejected the plan even before the House could post it online for the public, and Majority Leader Harry Reid noted that Obama already has threatened to veto anything that delays or defunds the health law a few days from taking full effect.

Undeterred, House Republicans pledged to press ahead with their latest attempt to squeeze a concession from the White House in exchange for letting the government open for business normally on Tuesday. They also agreed to pass legislation assuring U.S. troops are paid in the event of a shutdown.

"I think we have a winning program here," said Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, after days of discord that pitted Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and his leadership against tea party-backed conservatives.

There was no immediate reaction from the White House. Obama said Friday he would not be party to eviscerating the law he won from Congress in his first term, and spokesman Jay Carney said the administration would "absolutely not" back repealing the medical devices tax.

Apart from its impact on the health care law, the legislation that House Republicans decided to back would assure routine funding for government agencies through Dec. 15.

The measure marked something of a reduction in demands by House Republicans, who passed legislation several days ago that would permanently strip the health care law of money while providing funding for the government.

The Senate rejected that measure on a party-line vote of 54-44 Friday, insisting on a straightforward continuation in government funding without health care-related add-ons.

That left the next step up to the House - with time to avert a partial shutdown growing ever shorter.

For a moment at least, the revised House proposal papered over a simmering dispute between the leadership and tea party conservatives who have been more militant about abolishing the health law that all Republicans oppose.

It was unclear whether members of the rank and file had consulted with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has become the face of the "Defund Obamacare" campaign that tea party organizations are promoting and using as a fundraising tool.

Instead, House Republican moderates and conservatives said it soon would be up to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and fellow Democrats to decide whether the government would remain open past the shutdown deadline of midnight Monday.

Asked if the House measure would risk a shutdown, Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., said, "It depends on how long ... Reid wants to continue to be financially irresponsible and obstructionist."

Said Rep. Charles Dent, R-Pa.: "Once this passes the House, the Senate's going to have to make a decision. Will they move quickly or will they dawdle?"

Left unspoken was how the House would respond if the Senate rejected the measure and insisted once more on a bill with no extraneous items.

There was little doubt that Reid had the votes to block a one-year delay in the health care program widely known as "Obamacare."

It appeared the Republicans' chances of winning a concession centered on the medical device tax, which was incorporated into the health law to help pay its costs. Some Republicans noted that the Senate has taken a nonbinding 79-20 vote to repeal the levy, and that several members of Obama's party supported the proposal.

In fact, the total was more than half the Democratic senators, 33 in all. Those in favor included members of the leadership, Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Chuck Schumer of New York among them, as well as Murray.

"What will move this is if there are other Democratic senators who put pressure on Reid," said Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C.

The 2.3 percent tax, which took effect in January, is imposed on items such as pacemakers and CT scan machines; eyeglasses, contact lenses, hearing aids and other items are exempt. Repealing it would cost the government an estimated $29 billion over the coming decade.

Some Republicans breathed defiance, despite fears inside the party that the GOP would bear the blame for any interruption in government services.

"I've got a titanium backbone. Let `em blame, let `em talk, it's fine," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. She said the GOP wanted to keep the government open, but also wanted to reduce its size and "delay, defund, repeal and replace Obamacare," as the health law is called.

Despite such claims, House Republicans have yet to offer a replacement measure for the law they have pledged to repeal. They first promised to do so three years ago, during the 2010 election campaign when they wrested a majority from the Democrats.

If lawmakers miss the approaching deadline, a wide range of federal programs would be affected, from the national parks to the Pentagon.

Some critical services such patrolling the borders, inspecting meat and controlling air traffic would continue. Social Security benefits would be sent and the Medicare and Medicaid health care programs for the elderly and poor would continue to pay doctors and hospitals.

The new health insurance exchanges would open Tuesday, a development that's lent urgency to the drive to use a normally routine stopgap spending bill to gut implementation of the law.

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Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.

Obama, in his weekly radio and Internet address, accused House Republicans of being more concerned "with appeasing an extreme faction of their party than working to pass a budget."

With pressure mounting on splintered Republicans, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, scheduled a closed-door, lunchtime meeting of GOP lawmakers to see what, if any, legislation he could push through that might prevent large parts of the government from shuttering.

Failure to pass a short-term measure to keeping the government running would mean the first partial closing in almost 20 years.

With nothing much to work on, House members took to their chamber's floor and mixed name-calling with cries for compromise.

"I've got a titanium backbone. Let `em blame, let `em talk, it's fine," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., about Democratic claims that the GOP would be at fault if the government must close.

She said the GOP wanted to keep the government open, but also wanted to reduce its size and "delay, defund, repeal and replace Obamacare," as the health law is known.

Should the House approve legislation on the looming shutdown, a vote seemed most likely Sunday, leaving little time for the Senate to respond on Monday.

Senators on Friday sent a bill to the House that would keep the government's doors open until Nov. 15. But Democrats removed a provision to defund the health law, officially called the Affordable Care Act.

The Senate's 54-44 vote was strictly along party lines in favor of the bill, which would prevent a shutdown of nonessential government services.

That followed a 79-19 vote to cut off a filibuster by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that exposed a rift among Republicans eager to prevent a shutdown and those, like Cruz, who seem willing to risk one over the health overhaul.

All 52 Democrats, two independents and 25 of 44 Republicans voted in favor. That included Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and most of the GOP leadership.

Cruz was trying to rally House conservatives to continue the battle over heath care. He was urging them to reject efforts by Boehner and other GOP leaders to offer scaled-back assaults on the law such as repealing a tax on medical devices as the House response.

Some conservatives were taking their cues from Cruz rather than party leaders such as Boehner hoping to avoid a shutdown. Closing down the government could weaken Republicans heading into an even more important battle later in October over allowing the government to borrow more money.

"We now move on to the next stage of this battle," Cruz said after the Senate vote. He told reporters he had had numerous conversations with fellow conservatives in recent days.

"I am confident the House of Representatives will continue to stand its ground, continue to listen to the American people and ... stop this train wreck, this nightmare that is Obamacare," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., warned that the Senate will not accept any House measure that contains provisions opposed by Democrats.

He knows better than anyone that any single senator could slow down the Senate's ability to return yet another version to the House.

"This is it. Time is gone," Reid said.

If lawmakers miss the deadline, hundreds of thousands of nonessential federal workers would have to stay home on Tuesday.

Critical services such patrolling the borders, inspecting meat and controlling air traffic would continue. Social Security benefits would be sent and the Medicare and Medicaid health care programs for the elderly and poor would continue to pay doctors and hospitals.

The new health insurance exchanges would open Tuesday, a development that's lent urgency to the drive to use a normally routine stopgap spending bill to gut implementation of the law.

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Associated Press writers Josh Lederman and Alan Fram contributed to this report.

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