House move could signal shutdown
The GOP-led chamber was pushing a budget proposal that would postpone the health-care law for a year, a deal-breaker for the Senate and president.
Republicans in the House showed unusual unity Saturday in endorsing the plan. The House quickly approved rules for the debate, with final votes expected late Saturday night.
The Republican proposal would keep the government funded through Dec. 15, delay the health-care law, permanently repeal a 2.3 percent medical device tax that helps fund the health-care plan, and ensure military personnel would be paid if the government shuts down.
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.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) 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 two million people could be furloughed without pay. Social Security checks could be delayed.
The Senate staked out its position Friday, passing a budget that would keep the government open until Nov. 15 and fund "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 A. 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, 17 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 they insisted they wouldn't give in. "I'll continue to fight Obamacare by any means possible," said 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 mandate requiring larger companies to offer their workers insurance. On Thursday, the administration said small businesses would not be able to enroll in a health-care plan until November, rather than next month.