By Jack Torry
The U.S. House was nearing approval late Saturday night of a temporary spending measure to keep the government open, but Senate Democratic leaders swiftly rejected the bill as “pointless’’ because it delays for one year much of President Barack Obama’s 2010 health law.
As the House worked late into the evening, House GOP lawmakers appeared ready to back the measure, which would finance the federal government’s operations through the middle of December. Without congressional passage of a temporary spending measure, parts of the federal government will run out of money and shut down Tuesday.
The House measure would be a triumph for the most conservative Republican members and their Tea Party allies who have demanded a more confrontational approach with the White House. But the GOP bill increases the risk that the government will partially close on Tuesday unless a major compromise is forged.
The last time the government partially shut down was in 1996.
If the government partially closes, Social Security checks would continue to be mailed to recipients and the military would maintain its operations. But tens of thousands of federal civilian workers would face furloughs, national parks would close, and Americans would be unable to process new passports.
The debate has revolved around demands by conservatives that Obama agree to major revisions or delays in the Affordable Care Act. On Tuesday, millions of uninsured Americans will be eligible to go online and buy policies from health care exchanges across the country.
In addition, the House bill would repeal a 2.3 percent tax that manufacturers will pay on the sale of many medical devices. The tax, which is unpopular with many Republicans and some Democrats, raises money to pay for the health law.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester Twp., and other House GOP leaders said in a statement that “the American people don’t want a government shut down and they don’t want Obamacare,’’ adding “it’s up to the Senate to pass it and stop a government shutdown.’’
But the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., made it clear that the House version has no chance of winning Senate approval. The Senate is likely to kill the health care provisions in the House bill, approve another temporary spending bill, and send it back to the House.
White House spokesman Jay Carney accused the House Republicans of moving “to shut down the government,’’ charging that “they would rather make an ideological point by demanding the sabotage of the health care law.’’
In a statement, Reid said the Senate “will reject both the one-year delay’’ of the health law and “the repeal of the medical device tax. After weeks of futile political games from Republicans we are still at square one,’’ adding that Republicans must “decide whether to pass’’ a temporary spending bill without delaying the health law “or force a Republican government shutdown.’’
Both Democrats and Republicans are trying to avoid the stigma of being blamed by the public should the government partially close. The last time the government partially shut down, voters held congressional Republicans at fault and re-elected President Bill Clinton.
“This isn’t about defunding Obamacare, this is about delaying it,’’ said Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Genoa Twp. and a Boehner ally. “We’ve got over a dozen different things the administration has delayed for a year (in the health law).’’
“There is bipartisan support for a delay,’’ Tiberi said. “There is bipartisan support in the Senate for the medical device repeal. Our guys aren’t getting their way on the defund (of the health law), but the Senate, Harry Reid and the president need to negotiate with the House.’’
“The president is happy to negotiate with foreign leaders, but not with House Republicans,’’ Tiberi said. “At the end of the day, we don’t want to shut down the government, but we have serious concerns about the medical device tax and we would like to delay Obamacare. This is a reasonable position for us to have and for him to make it sound like an unreasonable position is out of bounds for Harry Reid.’’
The threat of a partial shutdown is yet one more sign of how Washington has been unable to govern in a smooth fashion with Republicans controlling the House and Democrats holding the presidency and the Senate.
Because none of the 13 annual spending bills have been approved and signed into law, the government runs out of money Tuesday evening with the end of the federal fiscal year. To keep the government open, Congress needs to approve a temporary spending bill, known in legislative language as a continuing resolution.