Who'll blink? Dems, GOP in shutdown stare down

Monday - 9/30/2013, 3:38am EDT

ANDREW TAYLOR
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- With the government teetering on the brink of partial shutdown, congressional Republicans vowed Sunday to keep using an otherwise routine federal funding bill to try to attack the president's health care law.

Congress was closed for the day after a post-midnight vote in the GOP-run House to delay by a year key parts of the new health care law and repeal a tax on medical devices, in exchange for avoiding a shutdown. The Senate was to convene Monday afternoon, just hours before the shutdown deadline, and Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had already promised that majority Democrats would kill the House's latest volley.

Since the last government shutdown 17 years ago, temporary funding bills known as continuing resolutions have been noncontroversial, with neither party willing to chance a shutdown to achieve legislative goals it couldn't otherwise win. But with health insurance exchanges set to open on Tuesday, tea-party Republicans are willing to take the risk in their drive to kill the health care law.

Action in Washington was limited mainly to the Sunday talk shows and a barrage of press releases as Democrats and Republicans rehearsed arguments for blaming each other if the government in fact closes its doors at midnight Monday.

"You're going to shut down the government if you can't prevent millions of Americans from getting affordable care," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.

"The House has twice now voted to keep the government open. And if we have a shutdown, it will only be because when the Senate comes back, Harry Reid says, 'I refuse even to talk,'" said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who led a 21-hour broadside against allowing the temporary funding bill to advance if stripped clean of a tea party-backed provision to derail Obamacare. The effort failed.

The battle started with a House vote to pass the short-term funding bill with a provision that would have eliminated the federal dollars needed to put President Barack Obama's health care overhaul into place. The Senate voted along party lines to strip that out and lobbed the measure back to the House.

The latest House measure, passed early Sunday by a near party-line vote of 231-192, sent back to the Senate two key changes: a one-year delay of key provisions of the health insurance law and repeal of a new tax on medical devices that partially funds it, steps that still go too far for The White House and its Democratic allies on Capitol Hill.

Senate rules often make it difficult to act quickly, but the chamber can act on the House's latest proposals by simply calling them up and killing them.

Eyes were turning to the House for its next move. One of its top leaders vowed the House would not simply give in to Democrats' demands to pass the Senate's "clean" funding bill.

"The House will get back together in enough time, send another provision not to shut the government down, but to fund it, and it will have a few other options in there for the Senate to look at again," said the No. 3 House Republican leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California. "We are not shutting the government down."

He suggested that House Republicans would try blocking a mandate that individuals buy health insurance or face a tax penalty, saying there might be some Democratic support in the Senate for that.

On the other hand, Democrats said the GOP's bravado may fade as the deadline to avert a shutdown nears.

Asked whether he could vote for a "clean" temporary funding bill, Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said he couldn't. But Labrador added, "I think there's enough people in the Republican Party who are willing to do that. And I think that's what you're going to see."

A leading Senate GOP moderate called on her fellow Republicans to back down.

"I disagree with the strategy of linking Obamacare with the continuing functioning of government -- a strategy that cannot possibly work," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

McCarthy wouldn't say what changes Republicans might make. He appeared to suggest that a very short-term measure might pass at the last minute, but GOP aides said that was unlikely.

And rumors Saturday night that GOP leaders might include a provision to deny lawmakers and staff aides their employer health care contributions from the government had cooled by Sunday afternoon. Lawmakers and congressional aides are required to purchase health insurance on the Affordable Care Act exchanges, but the administration has taken steps to make sure they continue to receive their 72 percent employer contribution.