House Republicans on Friday made good on their threat to approve legislation to shut down the government beginning Oct. 1, unless the White House and Senate Democrats agree to defund the Affordable Care Act – President Obama’s signature health care law that is set to launch in a matter of weeks.
By a vote of 230 to 189, the House approved and sent to the Senate a continuing resolution designed to support government programs at current levels through Dec. 15.
The measure includes authorization to defund Obamacare in 2014, as part of a GOP effort to bring to its knees a law designed to extend health coverage to millions of uninsured Americans.
Republicans have waged an extensive and lengthy campaign to undermine what many Americans say is an unpopular health care law approved by both chambers of Congress in March 2010, and later upheld by the Supreme Court. Beginning next month, Obamacare is scheduled to open health insurance exchanges that offer subsidized coverage. GOP lawmakers have repeatedly charged that the law would kill jobs, impose onerous requirements and taxes on businesses and individuals, and generally wreak havoc with the economy.
“Each week we hear stories about how both major employers and small businesses are cutting back benefits and cutting back hours” to get around Obamacare mandates, said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). “The President’s health care law is turning our full-time economy into a part-time economy. Even the heads of major unions who were once so supportive of Obamacare want to see this law drastically changed.”
But President Obama and Senate Democratic refuse to bend to the Republicans’ will, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) denounced the GOP efforts to force a government shutdown if they don’t prevail on blocking Obamacare.
“This place is a mess,” she scolded. “Let’s get our House in order. We are legislators. We have come here to do a job for the American people. And that job means we have to make the government run for the good of the people.”
Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell Jr. of California dismissed the GOP continuing resolution in graphic terms as “a right-wing effort to walk our economy off of a cliff and cause the government to shut down. I invite my colleagues on the other side to wake up from this radical, ideological wet dream and come back to reality,” he said. “It’s time for us come to the negotiating table.”
But it’s far from clear that either side is ready to sit down and work out a compromise before lawmakers and the administration first reach the brink of a shutdown at the start of the new fiscal year next month. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and President Obama this week each staked out rigid positions on spending, the debt ceiling and the future of the Affordable Care Act.
During a speech at a Ford stamping plant in Liberty, Mo., this afternoon, Obama declared that "I will not negotiate over the full faith and credit of the United States" or allow the Republicans to undermine the progress the country has made in recovering from the Great Recession or deny millions of Americans health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
"Defunding Affordable Health Care would rob 25 million Americans of the chance to get health care coverage," he said. "It would cut basic health care services for tens of millions of seniors on Medicare already. That's what House Republicans are fighting for. And now they've gone beyond just holding Congress hostage. They're holding the who country hostage."
"I'll tell you what, Missouri," Obama added. "The American people have worked too hard, for too long, digging out of a real crisis just to let politicians in Washington to cause another crisis. We're the United States of America. We're not some banana republic. This is not a dead-beat nation. . . We cannot just not pay our bills."
Today’s 230 to 189 vote illustrated how sharply the lines have been drawn. All but one Republican—Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia—voted for the continuing resolution, while just two Democrats—Rep. Jim Matheson of Utah and Rep. Mike McIntyre of North Carolina—defected from their party to support it.
Obama made plans to talk with congressional leaders next week, according to the Washington Post. However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) vowed to strip out the anti-Obamacare provisions and send a plain government funding bill back to the House next week, declaring that “any bill that defunds Obamacare is dead . . . a waste of time.”
A handful of conservative Senate Republicans, led by Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, have vowed to fight to preserve the anti-Obamacare provision in the legislation. But Cruz infuriated Boehner, Cantor and other House Republicans by acknowledging that he has few procedural tools at his disposal to block Reid’s maneuver. The Texas Republican later backed down from that statement and vowed to fight on.
Boehner and Cantor sought with the continuing resolution to put pressure on the Senate, indicating after the vote that the Democratic majority in that chamber could hang in the balance. “The House has listened to the American people,” Boehner said. “Now it’s time for the United States Senate to listen to them as well.”
The measure approved today would continue to fund the government beyond Sept. 30 at the current annual funding level of $986 billion through Dec. 15 while the two sides attempt to agree on a longer term solution. Democrats say that funding level is too low, and should be raised to more than $1 trillion while eliminating a second round of across the board sequester cuts.
Because the continuing resolution relates exclusively to discretionary spending, Republicans had problems legislatively going directly after Obamacare, which is largely funded through mandatory programs like Medicare and Medicaid. They got around that problem by adopting a rule stating that once the CR was approved, the text of a bill calling for the defunding of the Affordable Care Act during 2012 would automatically be approved as well.
This article was updated at 2:51 p.m.