WASHINGTON — Congress is moving the nation closer to a government shutdown on Tuesday after House Republicans announced Saturday they will advance a stopgap spending measure that will delay implementation of President Obama's health care law for one year.
"We will do our job and send this bill over, and then it's up to the Senate to pass it and stop a government shutdown," House GOP leaders said in a joint statement outlining the strategy.
The proposal faces certain defeat in the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he will not support any bill that dismantles the Affordable Care Act. Obama also said he would veto any such bill in the unlikely event it reaches his desk.
The House plans to vote Saturday on two amendments to the Senate-passed stopgap bill. The first amendment delays the entire health care law for one year, and the second amendment repeals a 2.3% tax on medical devices enacted to pay for the law. The House will also extend the length of the funding resolution to Dec. 15.
The House will vote on a separate measure to ensure that the U.S. military continues to get paid if the government shuts down. Because no annual spending bills have been enacted, a shutdown would stop the flow of paychecks to troops.
Members of Congress, however, will continue to be paid if a shutdown occurs.
House Republicans expressed confidence that the latest strategy could hold more promise in the Senate than their original effort to defund the healthcare law. "I think there are some senators over there who may be in cycle that secretly want a one-year delay and we just got to find the right mix that enables them to justify that vote," said Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C.
However, during Senate votes this week, all 54 Senate Democrats stuck together to strip out language defunding the law. Republicans would need 15 Senate Democrats to break party ranks to side with all 45 Senate Republicans, and there is no indication those votes exist. Even if they did, the president has said he would veto any legislation to undermine the law.
The Senate passed a stopgap bill Friday to keep the government running through Nov. 15 and sent it back to the House. The bill stripped out a House GOP provision to defund the law. Reid and President Obama have said they will not support any funding bill that aims to dismantle the law.
Reid warned Republicans that the only way to avoid a shutdown was to approve the Senate bill. "This is it. Time is gone. Our rules are different than the House," he said Friday. The Senate could take five to six days to approve another stopgap bill if the House volleys back a bill to delay the health care law. The Senate is not in session this weekend.
"We're getting closer to a shutdown, but if the Senate acts as quick as its capable we can avoid that. Let's see what they send back to us," said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., on Saturday, "We're working the process the way we're supposed to work it."
Further fueling fears of a shutdown was Reid's acknowledgment that House and Senate leaders are not communicating. In previous budget clashes, behind-the-scenes negotiations were underway. "We've made it very clear that the only way to solve this problem is just accept what we've done, just accept it," he said.
Boehner's office said Friday that they had not heard from Obama all week.
Most of the public would not feel the effects of a shutdown immediately. Government operations considered essential, like mail delivery, air-traffic control, and Social Security and Medicare, would continue unabated, but national parks and museums would close. Certain government employees would not get paid, but they would receive back pay when the government reopens. A short-term shutdown is unlikely to cause much long-term economic damage unless it drags on longer.
House Republicans are also working to put together a legislative package tied to an impending vote to raise the debt ceiling, the nation's borrowing limit, that will hit Oct. 17, according to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. The bill would suspend the debt ceiling through the 2014 elections in exchange for a one-year delay of implementation of the health care law and instructions on how to overhaul the federal tax code without raising additional revenue.
The package includes a grab bag of perennially popular GOP legislation that is unpalatable to Democrats, such as construction of a new oil pipeline from Canada to Texas, and increasing means testing for Medicaid recipients.
The package has also divided House Republicans for a number of reasons, forcing leaders to delay plans to vote on the package this weekend. Many lawmakers want to resolve the stopgap spending bill first, while others are concerned that the package does not include enough long-term deficit reduction.
Obama has maintained that he will veto any legislation that seeks to delay or defund his signature domestic achievement, and Democrats have vowed not to negotiate over the debt ceiling. There is no precedent for a U.S. debt limit default, but there is consensus that it could have sweeping, negative consequences for the U.S. economy.