WASHINGTON – Local members of Congress split along party lines early Sunday morning as House Republicans passed a short-term funding bill that was immediately rejected by Democrats, building momentum toward a shutdown beginning Tuesday.
House Republicans advanced a spending bill just after midnight Sunday morning that would fund the government through Dec. 15, preventing a shutdown, and also delay Obamacare by a year, repeal a tax on medical device manufacturers, which helps fund the health law, and eliminate a provision that requires employer-provided health plans to cover birth control.
All local House Republicans supported the move – along with all but two Republicans in the House – and every local Democrat voted against it, as did all but two of their party colleagues. It passed 231-192.
President Obama and Senate Democrats rejected the House plan before it was even approved, insisting that they would not allow the threat of a shutdown to force a roll-back of Obamacare, and that including such demands in a spending bill amounted to voting for a shutdown. Unless a deal is reached, the government runs out of spending authorization and will close after Monday.
To Republicans, their bill is an effort to stall an unpopular law that they say will damage the economy and disrupt the health care system.
U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan, a Delaware County Republican, said the House had now acted twice to avert a shutdown, and urged the Senate “to approve this compromise measure.”
“Pennsylvania families are making their voices heard loud and clear,” Meehan said. “They don’t want a government shutdown, and they don’t want Obamacare’s higher costs, higher taxes, and reduced access to quality care. Even many Democrats concede that the implementation of Obamacare has been a disaster, and this delay will spare the country of the law’s worst effects.
Democrats argue that funding the government is a basic responsibility of Congress, not leverage to extract concessions. They have insisted on a “clean” spending bill, with no added policies.
“This is a crisis manufactured and perpetuated solely by Congressional Republicans who allowed a Tea Party takeover of the Republican Party in Washington,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) “These Washington politicians who receive quality health care themselves are insistent on delaying health care for millions of Americans.”
Local House Republicans held firm that Obama’s signature health law should be delayed.
U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, a Bucks County Republicans, blamed the president for refusing to negotiate on the health law.
“Time has shown that the Affordable Care Act is a misguided effort which divided Americans on a common goal, affordable access to world class healthcare,” Fitzpatrick said in a speech on the House floor. In a statement after the vote, he said the GOP bill will keep the government running while providing time for the administration to improve the health law.
The Democratic House Majority PAC immediately attacked him, saying he “opted to pledge allegiance to the Tea Party.”
U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach, a Chester County Republican, said, “I supported this bill to keep the federal government open and give all Americans some badly-needed breathing room from a health care law that is suffocating job growth and opportunity. If Senate Democrat leaders and the President want to ignore Americans who are fed up with the unintended consequences of a severely-flawed health care law and want to reject solutions that have garnered bipartisan support in the past, it's pretty clear that they are committed to shutting down the federal government.”
In the Senate, Republican Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey proposed amendments similar to the ones the House approved, but he was blocked by Democrats. He then voted to block the spending bill.
U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D., Pa.) said Republicans "are pushing our nation to the brink of a government shutdown."
A White House spokesman said any Republican who supported the House measure “is voting for a shutdown.”
“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,” said Obama spokesman Jay Carney. “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.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said the Senate would not consider any spending bill that includes provisions related to Obamacare. He called the Republican vote “pointless” and said the Senate would reject the House bill.
“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,” Reid said. “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.”
The Senate on Friday passed a short-term spending plan that included no changes to Obamacare. Democrats stripped out GOP language that would have defunded the health law.
Members of both parties in the House also approved a measure that would ensure that military personnel are paid even in the event of a shutdown.