September 29, 2013

Federal shutdown likely as House votes to delay Obamacare

Senate leaders, President Obama vow to reject move as time running out to avoid Tuesday shutterings

By DAVID ESPO, AP Special Correspondent

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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., arrives for a closed-door meeting with fellow Republicans as the House of Representatives worked into the night to pass a bill to fund the government, at the Capitol in Washington on Saturday.

AP photo

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House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, arrives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington today. Heat is building on balkanized Republicans, who are convening the House this weekend in hopes of preventing a government shutdown but remain under tea party pressure to battle on and use a must-do funding bill to derail all or part of President Barack Obama's health care law.

AP photo

The Senate rejected the most recent House-passed anti-shutdown bill on a party-line vote of 54-44 Friday, insisting on a straightforward continuation in government funding without health care-related add-ons.

That left the next step up to the House — with time to avert a partial shutdown growing ever shorter.

For a moment at least, the revised House proposal papered over a simmering dispute between Speaker John Boehner and the rest of the leadership, and tea party conservatives who have been more militant about abolishing the health law that all Republican lawmakers oppose.

It was unclear whether members of the rank and file had consulted with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has become the face of the "Defund Obamacare" campaign that tea party organizations are promoting and using as a fundraising tool.

In debate on the House floor, Republicans adamantly rejected charges that they seek a government shutdown, and said their goal is to spare the nation from the effects of a law they said would cost jobs and reduce the quality of care. The law is an "attack and an assault on the free enterprise and the free economy," said Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas.

Democrats disagreed vociferously. "House Republicans are shutting down the government. They're doing it intentionally. They're doing it on purpose," said Rep. Donna Edwards of Maryland, as Republican lawmakers booed from their seats on the floor.

In the Senate, there was little doubt that Reid had the votes to block a one-year delay in the health care program widely known as "Obamacare." He said the same was true for the repeal of the medical device tax, even though 33 Democrats joined all Senate Republicans in supporting repeal on a nonbinding vote earlier in the year.

The 2.3 percent tax, which took effect in January, is imposed on items such as pacemakers and CT scan machines; eyeglasses, contact lenses, hearing aids and other items are exempt. Repealing it would cost the government an estimated $29 billion over the coming decade.

If lawmakers miss the approaching deadline, a wide range of federal programs would be affected, from the national parks to the Pentagon.

Some critical services such patrolling the borders, inspecting meat and controlling air traffic would continue. Social Security benefits would be sent and the Medicare and Medicaid health care programs for the elderly and poor would continue to pay doctors and hospitals.

The new health insurance exchanges would open Tuesday, a development that's lent urgency to the drive to use a normally routine stopgap spending bill to gut implementation of the law.

Associated Press writer Alan Fram and radio reporter Gerry Bodlander contributed to this report.

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