Only hours before a partial shutdown of the federal government would take effect, House Republicans still hadn’t arrived at a temporary spending bill that Senate Democrats were willing to approve to keep government workers on the job. A closure appeared inevitable.
On Monday afternoon, Senate Democrats rejected a stopgap spending bill passed by the House over the weekend because it contained anti-Obamacare measures that Democrats found objectionable.
In addition to a year’s delay in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the House legislation also would have repealed a tax on medical devices that helps fund the new law. Obamacare enrollment is due to start Tuesday — the same day as the shutdown.
Senate Democrats continued to insist that House Republicans send them a “clean” spending bill. House Republicans ignored them, however. Instead, they took steps to send the Senate another bill Democrats would not stomach.
The new bill, like the dead one, contains a year’s delay in the law. But it would also prevent members of Congress who purchase their insurance coverage through the new exchanges from getting tax-free contributions from their employer, i.e., the federal government.
“It’s a matter of fairness for all Americans,” Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement.
Before the House leaders confirmed their latest tack, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Senate majority leader, had already pretty much dismissed the latest and any future attempts by House Republicans to link Obamacare to a new temporary spending bill or raising the debt ceiling.
“They’re spinning their wheels,” Reid said. “We are not going to change Obamacare. They want any changes in Obamacare, wait till after the debt ceiling, wait until they’re willing to sit down and do a budget … with us and approach this in a reasonable manner.”
The president echoed Reid during an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep, co-host of Morning Edition:
“We’re not going to delay the Affordable Care Act. There are millions of Americans right now who do not have health insurance and they are finally, after decades, going to be in a position where they can get affordable health care, just like everybody else. And that means that their families, their kids, themselves — they’ve got the basic security that you and I enjoy. And the notion that we would even delay them getting that kind of peace of mind — potentially going to a doctor to get treated for illnesses that they currently have — simply because the Republicans have decided ideologically that they’re opposed to the Affordable Care Act is not something that we’re going to be discussing.”
Obama sounded a similar note during a Monday-afternoon appearance in the White House press briefing room, in which he urged Congress to keep the government open. “It does not have to happen,” Obama said of a shutdown.
The partial federal government shutdown is scheduled to start at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday. The House GOP’s insistence on adding conditions to the spending bill virtually guarantees a closure will occur.
Now the question becomes: How long will the government be closed? No one knows the answer, though the last shutdown experience 17 years ago suggests that the longer a shutdown continues, the more pressure will mount on House Republicans to come to terms with the president and congressional Democrats.
There were signs Monday that some congressional Republicans were willing to declare victory and fund the government.
The Associated Press reported that Rep. Charles Dent, R-Pa., said he was ready to vote for a “clean” funding bill.
“I would be supportive of it, and I believe the votes are there in the House to pass it,” he said, according to the AP.