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Tensions Rise Over Government Shutdown

2:19 PM, Sep 29, 2013   |    comments
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Written By Susan Davis, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON - Congressional Republicans showed no signs Sunday of relenting on their efforts to dismantle President Obama's health care law on a stopgap funding bill, setting the course for the first government shutdown in 17 years starting Tuesday.

"The American people overwhelmingly reject Obamacare. They understand it's not working. The only people who aren't listening to the argument are the career politicians in Washington," said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, on NBC's Meet the Press.

Cruz, who led a 21-hour filibuster-style speech against the health care law, has been a leading GOP advocate for using the stopgap measure as leverage to extract concessions on the Affordable Care Act, which begins open enrollment for the health care insurance exchanges on Oct. 1.

Cruz joined a chorus of GOP lawmakers on Sunday talk shows who sought to spread the political blame to President Obama and Senate Democrats if a shutdown occurs. "(Democrats) are the ones playing games. They need to act. They're the ones that are truly threatening a government shutdown by not being here and acting," said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., the fourth-ranking House Republican.

The Senate voted Friday to approve a stopgap funding measure through Nov. 15 after a week of debate. On Saturday, the House made a second attempt at dismantling the health law after their first attempt to remove spending for it in the funding bill failed.

The House approved 231-192 an amendment to delay implementation for one year, as well as an amendment to repeal a 2.3% tax on medical devices enacted to help pay for the law. The medical device tax is expected to raise $29 billion over 10 years. The House also voted to extend the length of the stopgap bill to Dec. 15, and approved a separate bill to make sure U.S. troops continue to get paid in the event of a shutdown.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, released a statement calling on the Senate to come in to session on Sunday to act on the House-passed amendments. "If the Senate stalls until Monday afternoon instead of working today, it would be an act of breathtaking arrogance by the Senate Democratic leadership." The Senate is scheduled to return Monday at 2 p.m. ET.

Many parts of the 2010 health care law have already been implemented, including discounts for prescription medications and the provision allowing children under 26 to remain on their parents' health insurance policies. On Tuesday, the state websites where uninsured Americans can shop for and buy health insurance will open. Those without health insurance will be required to buy it or pay a penalty; those whose income is up to 400% of the poverty level will receive a federal subsidy to help pay for the insurance.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the House's action was "pointless" and White House spokesman Jay Carney said it was "reckless and irresponsible" because Obama has already said he will veto any attempt to delay or defund the law in the unlikely event it reaches his desk.

Senate rules allow Reid to knock down the two amendments with one motion to table, which needs only 51 votes and cannot be blocked by Republicans.

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Sunday that Republicans were readying a third attempt on Monday if Reid rejects the amendments, as expected.

"I think 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," McCarthy told Fox News Sunday.

However, House Republicans' options on the eve of a shutdown are limited. The House could advance a stopgap bill that keeps the government open for a week to keep the health care fight going and the government funded. Republicans could also attempt to advance another provision affecting the health care law, but there is no sign it would meet a different fate in the Senate.

Boehner could put the "clean" Senate-passed funding bill on the House floor where it would likely pass on the support of House Democrats with some Republicans, but he is under political pressure from conservative lawmakers and allied outside groups to hold the line.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told CBS's Face the Nation that the Senate will reject the House's latest effort and that he expects a shutdown will occur. "I'm afraid I do," he said.

Durbin said Democrats were amendable to finding ways to reform the health care law, and acknowledged that many Democrats support proposals such as the medical device tax repeal, but he said the debate should happen independent of a bill to keep the government running.

"I fully support that (debate), but let's sit down in a bipartisan and calm way, not with the prospect of shutting down the government or shutting down the economy," he said.

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