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Government Shutdown Nears As House Picks New Gambit Targeting Health Care

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GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN
Michael McAuliff

Update: 12:20 a.m.: The House voted after midnight 248 to 174 to repeal the medical device tax and extend government funding until Dec. 15, and voted 231 to 192 to delay the start of Obamacare.

WASHINGTON -- Thwarted by the U.S. Senate's insistence on funding the government without attaching any Obamacare riders, the House of Representatives Saturday chose a new confrontational path, dramatically raising the odds of a government shutdown in less than three days.

Egged on by the tea party and like-minded leaders such as Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), the House earlier this month decided to link the funding of the government to ending President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. The Senate stripped those provisions, leaving the House to meet in an unusual Saturday session.

The new plan would include a one-year delay of Obamacare. The bill also would call for a full repeal of the law’s tax on medical devices, which many members on both sides of the aisle support, but which helps pay for the cost of health-care reform. Funding for military personnel and funding for the government itself until Dec. 15, 2013, also would be included.

"We are 100 percent united in this," said Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.). "It's up to the Senate if they want to shut us down."

The new House CR offer reflects the continued dominance of the conservative wing over leadership. After it became clear that the Senate would not approve the original House bill that fully delayed Obamacare, top GOP leadership aides told The Huffington Post that they were likely done trying to chip away at the president’s signature law, at least as part of a bill to fund the government. But two days later, they did just that under pressure from tea party members in their own chamber and the Senate. Cruz in particular was credited with making the second CR offer more aggressive.

"He's played a huge role,” Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) to HuffPost. “He's been the rallying force."

Not all Republicans were enthusiastic about the approach, but they held their tongues in hopes that there would be some sort of compromise.

"I don't want to be undercutting anything that's going on. I'm hopeful normal people are going to prevail," said Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.). "There's still time for the Senate to act."

The Senate has adjourned until 2 p.m. Monday, just 10 hours before the shutdown, and would have to act to accept or change the House provision. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and President Barack Obama have flatly refused to accept any Obamacare riders.

Unless leaders can craft a very short-term deal to buy time -- and get all 100 senators to accept it -- the government will shut down just after midnight on Monday.

With details of the House bill just emerging, Senate Democrats were still figuring out how best to respond and whether there was enough time to do so.

The most politically effective option would be to take the bill, vote out the offending provisions, and send it back once more to the House as a “clean” CR. But such votes could be delayed days without a unanimous consent (UC) agreement from the opposition party. And with Cruz in the opposition party, moving quickly seemed like an unlikely option; the chamber would likely run up to, if not beyond, the deadline for a shutdown.

Asked to describe Senate Democratic thinking on the new House CR, a top Democratic aide offered this: “It depends how it comes over and procedurally how we decide to handle it. We could ask UC to strip the riders, but presumably Cruz would block that and we’d have to go through the same process we went through last week, thus putting us in a shutdown.”

Another Senate Democratic leadership aide wondered aloud when House Republicans will realize that they just don't have the votes in the Senate to sink Obamacare.

"These guys can't seem to count to 60," said the aide. "Maybe a smaller number will be easier for them. How about 2.5 -- the number of days until they shut the government down?"

UPDATE: 5:14 p.m. -- The White House weighed in later, similarly condemning the GOP effort:

Today Republicans in the House of Representatives moved to shut down the government. Congress has two jobs to do: pass budgets and pay the bills it has racked up. Republicans in Congress had the opportunity to pass a routine, simple continuing resolution that keeps the government running for a few more weeks. But instead, Republicans decided they would rather make an ideological point by demanding the sabotage of the health care law. Republicans have tried and failed to defund or delay the health care law more than 40 times, and they know this demand is reckless and irresponsible. The President has shown that he is willing to improve the health care 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. Any member of the Republican Party who votes for this bill is voting for a shutdown. It's time for the House to listen to the American people and act, as the Senate has, in a reasonable way to pass a bill that keeps the government running and move on.

UPDATE: Majority Leader Reid stood by his pledge to reject any changes in the health care law, releasing a statement later Saturday that called the House action pointless and futile:

Today’s vote by House Republicans is pointless. As I have said repeatedly, the Senate will reject any Republican attempt to force changes to the Affordable Care Act through a mandatory government funding bill or the debt ceiling. Furthermore, President Obama has stated that he would veto such measures if they ever reached his desk.

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. After weeks of futile political games from Republicans, we are still at square one: Republicans must decide whether to pass the Senate’s clean CR, or force a Republican government shutdown.

Senate Democrats have shown that we are willing to debate and vote on a wide range of issues, including efforts to improve the Affordable Care Act. We continue to be willing to debate these issues in a calm and rational atmosphere. But the American people will not be extorted by Tea Party anarchists.

Sam Stein and Jennifer Bendery contributed reporting.

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