By Andrew Taylor
WASHINGTON -- As the government teeters on the brink of a partial shutdown, Republicans in Congress vowed Sunday to keep using an otherwise routine government financing bill to try to attack Obamacare.
Congress was closed for the day after a post-midnight vote in the GOP-run House to delay by a year key parts of the new health care law and repeal a tax on medical devices, in exchange for avoiding a shutdown. The Senate is slated to convene Monday afternoon just hours before the shutdown deadline, and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has promised that majority Democrats will kill the House's latest volley.
Since the last government shutdown 17 years ago, temporary financing bills known as continuing resolutions have been noncontroversial, with neither party willing to chance a shutdown to achieve legislative goals it couldn't otherwise win. But with health insurance exchanges set to open on Tuesday, tea-party Republicans are willing to take the risk in their drive to kill the health care law.
The action in Washington was limited mainly to the Sunday talk shows and barrages of press releases as Democrats and Republicans rehearsed arguments for blaming each other if the government closes its doors at midnight Monday.
"You're going to shut down the government if you can't prevent millions of Americans from getting affordable care," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).
"The House has twice now voted to keep the government open. And if we have a shutdown, it will only be because when the Senate comes back, Harry Reid says, 'I refuse even to talk,'" said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who led a 21-hour broadside against allowing the temporary financing bill to advance if stripped clean of a tea party-backed provision to derail Obamacare. The effort ultimately failed.
The battle started with a House vote to pass the short-term financing bill with a provision that would have defunded implementation of the health care overhaul. The Senate voted along party lines to strip that out and lobbed the measure back to the House. The latest House measure, passed early Sunday by a near party-line vote of 231-192, sent back to the Senate two key changes: a one year delay of key provisions of the health insurance law and repeal of a new tax on medical devices that partly funds it, steps that still go too far for the White House and its Democratic allies on Capitol Hill.