As promised, the Senate on Monday afternoon rejected the latest House offer to keep the government operating through Dec. 15 in return for delaying Obamacare and killing the medical device tax that will help to pay for the health insurance program.
Before the vote that began shortly after 2 p.m., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) made clear there would be no short-term, week-long funding extension to prevent the government from partially shutting down beginning midnight Monday, as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had proposed.
The Senate voted 54 to 46 along strict party lines to table the House-passed measure, with less than ten hours to go before the start of the new fiscal year, which would trigger a government shutdown.
Reid said that if the two chambers don’t reach a bipartisan accommodation before the day is out, “there is going to be a shutdown of the government, caused by them, the Republicans. I hope [House Speaker] John Boehner makes a responsible decision, one that’s good for the country.”
Obama said earlier in the day that he was willing to negotiate with Republicans on a larger budget deal—including raising the debt ceiling to avert a first-ever default on U.S. debt—but would not submit to GOP blackmail involving his signature health care law.
Meanwhile, Boehner’s leadership team presented rank-and-file Republicans with a new version of the CR that would include a one-year delay of the cornerstone of the Affordable Care Act — the so-called individual mandate — while adding a provision that would strip federal subsidies for lawmakers and their staffs, according to The Washington Post. If the House approves this later today, the Senate will swiftly reject this approach as well.
Now, the ball is back in the House’s court, and Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) either will cast his lot one more time with Tea Party conservatives and pass yet another temporary spending bill to sidetrack Obamacare or throw in the towel and press for a continuing resolution that the Senate can support.
WHY THE GOP WILL TAKE THE HIT
By making this move now, the Senate places the burden on the House again. This wasn’t just a rejection of House Republicans’ demands, but an opportunity to make sure they get the biggest share of the blame if a shutdown occurs.
For sure, there will be more high stakes political Ping-Pong played by the two chambers before the night is out. But Reid – who has emerged as the master tactician for congressional Democrats as well as the White House – will almost certainly ensure that the final decision will be back in House members’ laps before the clock runs out tonight.
In an unmistakable sign of Reid’s resolve, he set up this afternoon’s vote as a simple yes or no on a motion to table the House measure. It cut through the complicated, multi-pronged bill the House sent the Senate over the weekend – one that gave Senate Democrats the choice of delaying Obamacare for a year or only repealing a highly unpopular, 2-percent sales tax on the medical device industry, while keeping the government operating through Dec. 15.
The House measure also would have provided assurance that members of the military would continue to be paid, even if there was a shutdown.
But as far as Reid was concerned, it was no dice.
During this latest fiscal crisis, Reid has dismissed Tea Party GOP senators including Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah as “anarchists” and hostage takers, while pretty much publicly dictating the strategy for congressional Democrats as the White House has yet to embark on negotiations.
When the president considered sitting down with the four congressional leaders in the White House ahead of the deadline to avert a government shutdown, Reid privately urged Obama to call off the meeting, according to Politico. The combative majority leader, a one-time boxer, believed it would amount to a photo-op that would give the false impression of serious negotiations. Obama scrapped it.
Reid’s strategy boils down to a few factors: Even minor concessions by the Democrats would invite greater demands from the Republicans in exchange for an agreement this fall to avoid a debt crisis. With the Republicans seemingly divided over their own strategy, Reid and other Democratic leaders are convinced that the political backlash from a shutdown would be devastating to the GOP, potentially costing them the majority in the House.
By contrast, Boehner has been operating in a straightjacket, forced to go along with House Republican conservatives’ strategy of threatening a shutdown unless they get their way on Obamacare – an approach that the normally level-headed veteran GOP leader must know is fraught with danger that could cost his party dearly in the next election.
During a second statement at the White House today, the president spelled out in detail the impact of a government shutdown and reaffirmed his refusal to make concessions on his health care law in return for Republican approval of just a short term extension of spending authority.
"Does anybody truly believe we won't have this fight again in a couple of more months, even at Christmas?" he said.
"So here's the bottom line," he added. "I'm always will to work with anyone of either party to make sure the Affordable Care Act works better, to make sure our government works better. . . But one faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government doesn't get to shut down the entire government just to refight the results of an election. Keeping the people's government is not a concession to me. Keeping vital services running and keeping hundreds of thousands of Americans on the job is not something you give to the other side."
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) followed the Monday afternoon vote in her chamber by denouncing the possibility of a shutdown, while arguing that the Senate could not accept a temporary spending bill that was designed around the ideological interests of stopping Obamacare. “It was deliberately designed to be politically provocative," Mikulski said. “If the government shuts down, tomorrow, it will be because of the House’s viewpoint: My way or the highway.”
The Maryland senator then listed the different federal agencies in her home state where workers would be furloughed, including cancer researchers at the NIH, food inspectors at the FDA, and the weather analysts in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
This article was updated at 5:31 p.m.