WASHINGTON - The House is holding a rare Saturday session where GOP leaders are scrambling to build consensus with the party for a stopgap spending bill that can avert an impending Oct. 1 government shutdown.
The House GOP leadership plans a vote on a bill that would delay the Affordable Care Act for one year, according to a senior GOP aide who would not be identified ahead of the public announcement. Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is under significant pressure from the right to hold the line on insisting that any stopgap bill delay or defund President Obama's health care law.
The Senate passed a stopgap bill Friday to keep the government running through Nov. 15 and sent it back to the House. The bill stripped out a House GOP provision to defund the law. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and President Obama have said they will not support any funding bill that aims to dismantle the law.
Boehner said he will not accept a "clean" funding bill and intends to amend it and send it back to the Senate by Monday.
Reid warned Republicans that the only way to avoid a shutdown was to approve the Senate bill. "This is it. Time is gone. Our rules are different than the House," he said Friday. The Senate could take five to six days to approve another stopgap bill if the House returns a bill that again defunds or delays the health care law. The Senate is not in session this weekend.
Further fueling fears of a shutdown was Reid's acknowledgment that House and Senate leaders are not communicating. In previous budget clashes, behind-the-scenes negotiations were underway. "We've made it very clear that the only way to solve this problem is just accept what we've done, just accept it," he said.
Most of the public would not feel the effects of a shutdown immediately. Government operations considered essential, like mail delivery, air-traffic control, and Social Security and Medicare, would continue unabated, but national parks and museums would close. Certain government employees would not get paid, but they would receive back pay when the government reopens. A short-term shutdown is unlikely to cause much long-term economic damage unless it drags on longer.
House Republicans are also working to put together a legislative package tied to an impending vote to raise the debt ceiling, the nation's borrowing limit, that will hit Oct. 17, according to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. The bill would suspend the debt ceiling through the 2014 elections in exchange for a one-year delay of implementation of the health care law and instructions on how to overhaul the federal tax code without raising additional revenue.
The package includes a grab bag of perennially popular GOP legislation that is unpalatable to Democrats, such as construction of a new oil pipeline from Canada to Texas, and increasing means testing for Medicaid recipients.
The package has also divided House Republicans for a number of reasons, forcing leaders to delay plans to vote on the package this weekend. Many lawmakers want to resolve the stopgap spending bill first, while others are concerned that the package does not include enough long-term deficit reduction.
President Obama has maintained that he will veto any legislation that seeks to delay or defund his signature domestic achievement, and Democrats have vowed not to negotiate over the debt ceiling. There is no precedent for a U.S. debt limit default, but there is consensus that it could have sweeping, negative consequences for the U.S. economy.