WASHINGTON -- Local House Republicans on Friday supported a controversial plan that ties funding to keep the federal government open to killing “Obamacare” – helping set the stage for a legislative battle that could result in a government shutdown Oct. 1.
Local Democrats voted unanimously against the plan, except for U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.) who did not vote.
The breakdown among lawmakers from Philadelphia and its Pennsylvania and New Jersey suburbs matched the national picture: the GOP plan was approved in an almost strictly party line vote. Only two Democrats supported the proposal and only one Republican opposed it.
The tactic of tying money for basic federal operations to "defunding" President Obama's signature health care law is a controversial step pushed by some of the GOP’s most strident figures, but opposed by many Republicans who fear that a government shutdown would backfire, with Republicans bearing the blame.
Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate have vowed to oppose any measure that strips funding for the president’s signature health care law.
Local House Republicans, who represent largely moderate districts, have expressed unease with the tactic and shutdown threat. Several have said they will not support a step that shutters the government.
But they all voted for the House bill Friday, saying it was important to advance the process and see what the Senate passes. Once the Senate acts, the House could have another chance to weigh in on an amended plan.
Bucks County U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzptrick (R., Pa.) said Thursday he would vote “to continue to fund the government and the send the bill to the Senate.” He said he was eager to see what the Senate produces.
On Friday he issued a statement saying the bill “keeps the government running and fulfills our financial obligations” while allowing time “to write a workable plan to put our country back on the right track.”
But Democrats gunning for his seat immediately criticized his vote.
“Fitzpatrick officially joined the Tea Party Republican ‘suicide squad’ and moved our nation one step closer to a disastrous government shut down,” said a statement from Andy Stone, spokesman for the Democratic House Majority PAC. Another liberal group has a conference call planned to slam Fitzpatrick.
Like Fitzpatrick, U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan (R., Pa.), of Delaware County, also said Thursday he wanted to advance the legislative process. Because of conservative objections, the only proposal that could get majority GOP approval in the House was one that included a provision “defunding” Obama’s health law.
“I just don’t think this will be the end of the process, but it’s important to be able to take this step so we can get closer to finding the way we can get to a resolution, and I think it’s legitimate that the issue of Obamacare be given a chance to have people put up their votes,” Meehan said.
Meehan and Fitzpatrick both said they oppose a shutdown, but stopped short of saying whether they would support a Senate bill that funded the government and left Obamacare intact.
“Let’s see what comes back,” from the Senate, Meehan said. “I have every suspicion something will come back – but I don’t necessarily know that that will be the end of it either.”
Said Fitzpatrick: “shutting down the government is off the table for me.”
But asked directly if he would support a measure that funds the government but does not kill Obamacare, he did not answer directly.
“We still need to see what comes back from the Senate,” he said, saying it’s too early to predict what the Senate will do.
Fitzpatrick has said he favors a repeal of the entire law, but he and Meehan both said they would have preferred an approach that took aim at specific, unpopular provisions that could have won both Democratic and Republican support.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent (R., Pa.), of Allentown, also pointed to the importance of advancing a funding mechanism, and hoped for compromise.
“While I may not agree with the tactic that the House leadership had to adopt in order to get this bill out of the House, advancing this (short-term budget) is imperative and begins the necessary legislative process,” he said in a statement.
He added, “Ultimately, the Senate will pass a bill, and then both the House and Senate will have to reconcile the differences between their two positions. At the end of this process, I hope to vote for a compromise bill that keeps the government running.”
U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.), from Chester County, issued a statement Friday saying his constituents “have had enough of the broken promises and the unintended consequences of this law and want Congress and the President to repeal this law” but he also said “we must keep the federal government open for business.”
Today's vote has drawn attention, but the House could have another shot at the issue before the end of the month, once the Senate acts and volleys the debate back to the other side of the Capitol. That vote, likely to arrive much closer to the deadline, will have more impact on whether the government actually shuts down.
Some lawmakers predict that the House will ultimately avert a shutdown by approving a compromise bill supported by Republican moderates and Democrats. That path, though, would require GOP leadership to defy a bloc of staunch House conservatives who are insisting on killing Obamacare as a condition of approving a new spending bill. So far, the Republican leadership has bowed to the group’s demands.
Funding is in place through Sept. 30.
U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D., Pa.) criticized the GOP tactics.
“House Republicans are willing to shut down our government and prevent the United States from paying its bills instead of working with Democrats to negotiate a budget,” she said in a statement.