One Step Closer to Shutdown: House Republicans Pass Obamacare Delay

With Senate approval unlikely on Monday, the government will be out of money on Tuesday unless a last-minute deal emerges.
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Associated Press

This post was updated on September 29, 2013 at 12:54 a.m.  

The House approved a measure early Sunday morning that would fund the government through Dec. 15 while delaying implementation of Obamacare for one year, a politically risky maneuver that united House Republicans but pushes the federal government closer to a shutdown.

The legislationwhich also includes an amendment to repeal the medical device tax and a separate provision to pay military members in the event of a shutdownpassed easily, putting the continuing resolution to keep the government running past Monday back in the Senate's court.

"They might have to come back from their vacation," said Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., who has led the charge for an Obamacare delay, before the vote. "Harry Reid has to now decide if he's going to continue forcing this bad law on the American people."

The Senate majority leader, though, has already dismissed the House's plan outright. The Senate, he announced Saturday, will reject the delay of the Affordable Care Act as well as amendment to cut the medical device tax, which Reid last week called "stupid."

"Today's vote by House Republicans is pointless," Reid said in a statement. "Republicans must decide whether to pass the Senate's clean CR, or force a Republican government shutdown."

To avoid a partial government shutdown, both chambers of Congress must reach an agreement by Tuesday, the start of the new fiscal year. The Senate adjourned on Friday until Monday afternoon, and senators are not expected to return early to respond to the House's latest proffer.

But according to a Senate aide and a House Democrat, Reid will move to table the House amendments to delay Obamacare and repeal the medical device tax. Reid also plans to shorten the time-frame for continued government funding under the bill and have the CR expire Nov. 15 rather than Dec. 15.

That means the Senate is poised to send back exactly the same language it sent to the House on Friday, according to the aide. And that would leave House Republicans in a position of accepting a so-called "clean CR" or forcing a government shutdown on Tuesday.

According to House Republicans, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and his lieutenants already are considering how to devise an eleventh-hour response that could be acceptable to a majority of conservatives in his conference if the Senate does not budge.

One option, members said, is to revise the CR yet again—this time to include an amendment from Sen. David Vitter, R-La., that would prevent members of Congress and their staffers from receiving exemptions from key Obamacare measures.

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said he would support that strategy, because it would "make them live under this hellish law."

Other Republicans, however, were noncommittal on that approach. "It just depends on how many people are controlled by Ted Cruz," sniped Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., a moderate who has vocally opposed of the campaign against Obamacare mounted by the junior Republican senator from Texas.

For now, at least, House Republicans insist that their conference is unified—a claim supported by the votes taken early Sunday morning.

The floor action consisted of three separate votes. The House first voted 248 to 174 to repeal the tax on medical devices, with 17 Democrats joining 231 Republicans in support. The House then voted 231-192 to delay Obamcare's implementation by a year, with two defections from each party. A third vote was unanimous to continue appropriations for military pay in the event of a shutdown.

Hours before the votes, cheers erupted in a closed-door GOP meeting Saturday afternoon after Boehner made it clear the House was not giving up in the standoff with the Senate and the White House.

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Tim Alberta, Michael Catalini, & Billy House

 Tim Alberta, Michael Cataliniare, and Billy House are National Journal reporters.

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