Shutdown showdown intensifies over Obamacare delay
WASHINGTON — The political and economic stakes mounting with each tick of the clock, the White House and congressional Democrats say a House-approved delay in President Barack Obama's health care law does nothing but push Washington to the brink of the first government shutdown in 17 years.
Neither side showed signs of surrender early Sunday after the Republican-led House added a one-year delay in implementing health-care reform to legislation that would avert a shuttering of federal offices on Tuesday. The near party-line vote was 231-192, shifting the focus to the Democratic-run Senate less than 48 hours before government funds run dry.
Democrats said delaying the health care law would sink the bill. They also opposed a second provision the House added by 248-174: A repeal of a tax on many medical devices that helps finance the 2010 health care overhaul.
Republicans said the health care law, often called "Obamacare," was costing jobs and pushing up costs. Americans dislike "this crazy, delusional idea that nationalized, centralized planning will work," said Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C.
Obama has said he won't let the law — his chief domestic achievement — be gutted. Democrats said Republicans were obsessed with attacking the measure, aimed at providing health coverage for millions of uninsured Americans, and the president.
"Your hate for this president is coming before your love of this country," said Rep. David Scott, D-Ga. "Because if you love this country you would not be closing it down."
As prospects for preventing a shutdown dwindled, the White House promised Obama's veto should the bill reach his desk. Yet it seemed unlikely the president would get the chance because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Senate would reject the measure.
The House bill contained new concessions from Republicans who have long criticized the requirements the health care law imposes on insurers.
They said their measure would leave intact most parts of the health care law that have already taken effect, including requiring insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions and to let families' plans cover children up to age 26. An exception: Insurers would be allowed to deny abortion coverage based on religious or moral objections.
But it would delay a requirement for people to purchase coverage or face a penalty, and the creation of marketplaces — which are supposed to start functioning this Tuesday — where people could shop for coverage from private insurers.
Repealing the 2.3 percent medical device tax would boost deficits by roughly $29 billion over the coming decade — even though Republicans won the House majority in 2010 by pledging to tighten the nation's finances.
The shutdown bill brought unity, for the moment, to Republicans who have recently been divided and, at times, openly antagonistic toward each other.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other GOP leaders initially preferred waging the fight over health care on a separate bill for raising the government's debt limit, thus avoiding threatening a shutdown.
But a small cadre of younger Republicans led by Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah whipped up sentiment among fellow conservatives for using the shutdown measure for an all-out assault on the Affordable Care Act.
That drew scorn from many Republicans who saw it as an effort that could never prevail with Obama in the White House and Democratic Senate control, and that might prompt a shutdown for which voters would fault the GOP. Yet many conservatives have not relented.
The House also approved a separate bill paying troops, plus some defense contractors and civilian Pentagon workers, should a shutdown occur. The vote was 423-0.
Associated Press writer David Espo contributed to this report.