House votes to finance government but defund health care law

House Speaker John Boehner (right) is cheered as Republican members of the House of Representatives rally after passing a bill to defund Obamacare. "The House has listened to the American people," Boehner said.
House Speaker John Boehner (right) is cheered as Republican members of the House of Representatives rally after passing a bill to defund Obamacare. "The House has listened to the American people," Boehner said. (Associated Press)
Posted: September 22, 2013

WASHINGTON - The Republican-controlled House of Representatives approved a controversial plan Friday to fund government operations through Dec. 15 but eliminate all the money behind President Obama's signature health care law, helping set in motion a budget fight with potentially severe consequences.

Each of the Philadelphia suburbs' Republican lawmakers voted for the plan.

The tactic - essentially demanding that Democrats agree to slash Obamacare in order to keep the government running - has been pushed by some of the GOP's most combative figures, but opposed by many Republicans who worry that a government shutdown would backfire.

Democrats said Republicans are risking sending a damaging ripple through the economy while fighting for a lost cause. An Obamacare rollback has no chance of winning approval from Obama or the Democratically-controlled Senate.

"This is like the movie Fatal Attraction," said U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D., N.J.) "This is an obsession."

He and nearly every other Democrat in the House voted no.

Republican leaders hailed the move as a chance to kill a law they despise. "The House has listened to the American people," House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) said after the 230-189 vote. "Now it's time for the United States Senate to listen to them as well."

At the same time, many Republicans see danger in the strategy, and have openly chafed at how Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Tex.) campaigned for it even though House members had to take the first step and put their necks on the line.

From top leaders on down, House Republicans pressed Cruz Friday to back up his tough talk as the fight moves to the Senate.

"To quote Andy Reid, 'Time's yours, Cruz,' " tweeted U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan (R., N.J.) the former Philadelphia Eagle.

Republicans from the suburbs in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey have largely said they don't want a shutdown, but have also been sharply critical of Obamacare and support the goal of dismantling the law.

Several said they voted for the House plan Friday to advance the legislative process needed to keep the government running.

"It's important to be able to take this step so we can get closer to finding the way we can get to a resolution," U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan (R., Pa.) said Thursday.

Similarly, U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.) said he would vote "to continue to fund the government and send the bill to the Senate."

But Democrats gunning for the Bucks County Republican's seat immediately criticized his vote.

"Fitzpatrick officially joined the Tea Party Republican 'suicide squad' and moved our nation one step closer to a disastrous government shutdown," the Democratic House Majority political action committee said in a statement.

While saying they oppose a shutdown, Meehan, Fitzpatrick, and other Philadelphia area Republicans stopped short of saying whether they would support a Senate bill that leaves Obamacare intact.

"We still need to see what comes back from the Senate," Fitzpatrick said, saying it's too early to predict the action there.

There are several steps still to play out.

Senate Democrats have vowed to advance a short-term budget next week that preserves Obamacare and thus volley the issue back to the House, setting up a true test of GOP resolve as a Sept. 30 deadline nears.

Boehner would have to decide whether to reject the bill and bring on a shutdown in the name of killing the health law; defy his conservative bloc by accepting the Senate plan and passing it with support from Democrats and moderate Republicans; or devise a new, last-minute proposal.

Local House Republicans, who represent largely moderate districts, have signaled that they would look for a compromise that keeps the government running.

"Once the Senate takes action, I'm hopeful Congress will be able to reach an agreement," Meehan said in a statement Friday.

U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.) blasted the effects of Obamacare, but said in a statement, "We must keep the federal government open for business."

Local Democrats all voted against the plan, except for U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.), who did not vote.

The split among lawmakers from the Philadelphia area matched the national picture: the GOP plan was approved in an almost strictly party-line vote.


WAITING IN THE WINGS: THE DEBT CEILING DEBATE

In addition to the threat of a partial government shutdown at the end of the month, Obama administration officials say that without passage of legislation to allow more federal borrowing, the nation faces the risk of a first-ever default sometime in the second half of next month.

House Republicans intend to vote to raise the nation's debt limit next week to prevent that from happening, and they have said they will include a one-year delay in "Obamacare" in the measure - to reinforce their determination to eradicate the program.

The likelihood is that the Senate will strip off the provision to defund the health-care law, as well a different section that prioritizes debt payments in the event the Treasury lacks the funds to meet all its obligations.

Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democrats then plan to send back to the House a bill whose sole purpose would be to prevent any interruption in government services on Oct. 1.

 Republicans could respond with yet another attack on the health-care law, perhaps a one-year delay in the requirement for individuals to purchase insurance.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky backs legislation to that effect, and President Obama has already announced a one-year postponement in a requirement for businesses to provide coverage to their employees.                                              - AP


Contact Jonathan Tamari at jtamari@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @JonathanTamari. Read his blog 'Capitol Inq' at www.inquirer.com/CapitolInq.

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