Washington - Republicans rallied around a budget plan early Sunday to keep the government open but delay the new health care law for a year, storming toward a showdown with Democrats that looked increasingly likely to shut down the government when the current fiscal year ends Monday night.
Republicans in the House of Representatives showed unusual unity in endorsing the plan. The House, in a rapid-fire series of votes that stretched past midnight, voted 248 to 174 to permanently repeal a 2.3 percent medical device tax that helps fund the health care law, then voted 231 to 192 to delay the law for a year. The House was also expected to approve a measure to assure military personnel will be paid if the government shuts down.
The votes followed a day when Republicans, divided about whether to risk a shutdown or fold and fight another time, came together behind a carefully-crafted effort to put pressure on Democrats. The Senate is not scheduled to return to session until Monday afternoon, 10 hours before the fiscal year ends. Democrats who control the Senate said they wouldn’t negotiate or consider the House proposal, leaving no apparent path to compromise on either side in the waning hours before money runs out for many parts of the government not on automatic spending such as Social Security or considered essential such as the military.
The White House threatened a veto of the Republican plan, and Press Secretary Jay Carney worked to pin the blame for a shutdown on Republicans. “Any member of the Republican Party who votes for this bill is voting for a shutdown,” he said. “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.”
In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Senate would not agree to the proposal.
“Today’s vote by House Republicans is pointless,” he said. “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.”
Government agencies have begun preparing for a shutdown. Monuments, national parks and museums could begin closing. About 40 percent of the federal workforce of 2 million people could be furloughed without pay. Social Security checks could be delayed.
The Senate staked out its position Friday, passing a budget that keeps the government open until Nov. 15 and funding Obamacare.
House Republican leaders for weeks had urged avoiding the kind of showdown that’s evolving, realizing the American public is not eager for a shutdown. But Saturday, after days of trying to find consensus in a bitterly divided caucus, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio seemed to realize he had no other choice. The next move, he said, was up to Democrats.
“The American people don’t want a government shutdown, and they don’t want Obamacare,” Boehner and other House Republican leaders said in a statement. “It’s up to the Senate to pass it and stop a government shutdown.”
The vote brought together, at least for the moment, two warring sides of the Republican Party. There was still talk that Boehner could bring the Senate budget to the House floor at the last minute Monday night and pass it with a handful of Republican votes and a strong Democratic showing. Republicans have a 233 to 200 majority, meaning if all Democrats went along, seventeen Republican votes would be needed for passage.
Those votes could come from a group of veteran lawmakers, who see little political gain—and lots of potential damage—to shutting down.
“I’m hopeful that normal people are going to prevail,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., a moderate who routinely is at odds with his tea party colleagues.
Republicans also came under new fire from Democrats. “It’s time for this temper tantrum, Mr. Speaker, to end and for cooler heads to prevail – there must be some cooler heads here on the other side,” Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., told House colleagues.
The more vocal, more conservative faction of the Republican party had been urging Saturday’s action, and continued to insist they won’t give in. “I’ll continue to fight Obamacare by any means possible,” insisted Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas.
The one year delay makes sense, they argued, because parts of the law have already been put off.
In July, the Obama administration announced it was delaying for a year the employer mandate requiring larger companies to offer employees insurance. Thursday, the administration said small businesses will not be able to enroll in a health care plan until November, rather than next month.
Why not a further delay, many Republicans asked?
“Number One, it would allow us to have a legitimate conversation about the unintended consequences the affordable care bill has had,” said Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y. “I think that way would take the rhetoric out of it, take the polarization out of it, and allow a real honest discussion to happen, which I think would be good for the country and be good policy.”
If he rejected a further delay, Obama would have a hard time justifying a government shutdown, argued Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio. “He’ll really have to answer to the American people,” Chabot said.
Ending the medical device tax is a tactic designed to at least make Democrats think again about changing the budget plan. In March, the Senate voted, 79-20, to endorse its repeal. Democrats are being pressed by medical device supplier to end the 2.3 percent tax, which went into effect this year. Republicans think repeal could be hard for senators to resist.
“What will move this is Democrat senators who put pressure on Reid,” said Rep. Richard Hudson, a Republican freshman from Charlotte, N.C. “This device tax may be what they need.”
The military provision was crucial to winning support from a handful of Republicans concerned about the impact of a shutdown on service personnel.
“We have to be sure our military has the things they need to carry out their missions and I’ll be talking as long as I can talk about that,” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif.
(Anita Kumar of the McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed).