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House Nears Vote To Fund Government, Defund Obamacare

Sep 20, 2013
Originally published on September 20, 2013 11:18 am

The Republican-controlled House is set to vote Friday on a stopgap spending bill to keep the government open for business through the middle of December. And the White House has already said if it makes it to the president's desk, he'll veto it. That's because the bill also would defund the Affordable Care Act.

Congress has 10 days to get this worked out. If not, there will be a government shutdown. Passing what's known as a continuing resolution — a temporary bill to keep the lights on — should be routine. But this is turning into a huge fight that's likely to go right down to the wire.

And it's all because of Obamacare. Or more accurately, the determination of congressional Republicans to destroy President Obama's signature legislative achievement.

At the insistence of the most conservative wing of the House GOP conference, Speaker John Boehner is moving forward with a must-pass spending bill that includes the defunding.

Of course, the Senate is controlled by Democrats, and Majority Leader Harry Reid says any measure to defund Obamacare is "dead" and a "waste of time."

So the most likely scenario is that the Senate will take up the spending bill, restore the Obamacare funding and send it back to the House. Tag, you're it.

Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz says he's willing to try and filibuster the Senate's action, but because of Senate procedure, he may not get the chance.

Cruz and Utah Sen. Mike Lee have been pushing all summer to defund the health care law, but Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain warns that a government shutdown over the issue could hurt the GOP.

"It is not going to succeed because the American people do not want government shut down," said McCain. "And they'll blame Congress. It's not as if we haven't seen this movie before."

Congress was blamed for the last government shutdowns in 1995 and 1996. It didn't turn out well for Republicans. So, the question is, will they blink? What happens when the Senate inevitably sends a stopgap spending bill back to the House that doesn't defund Obamacare?

If Boehner has a plan, he's not revealing it. "I'm not going to speculate on what the Senate's going to do or not do, and where the votes are," said the Ohio Republican. "We'll have plenty of time next weekend to discuss that."

Yes, he said next weekend. Boehner already is planning for this to go into the 11th hour.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. Since Republicans took control of the House at the start of 2011, they have voted roughly every 24 days to repeal Obamacare. Votes against President Obama's signature domestic achievement come a little bit more often than a new moon.

MONTAGNE: Each time, the proposal has died in the Senate. But today, lawmakers try one more time - with higher stakes than ever. The House of Representatives is set to vote today on a stopgap spending bill to keep the government open for business through the middle of December.

INSKEEP: That bill also would defund the Affordable Care Act, and its passage sets up conflict with the Senate as well as the president. Here's NPR's Tamara Keith.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Congress has 10 days to get this worked out. If not, there will be a government shutdown. Passing what's known as a continuing resolution - a temporary bill to keep the lights on - should be routine. But this is turning into a huge fight that's likely to go right down to the wire. And it's all because of Obamacare - or more accurately, the determination of congressional Republicans to destroy it.

REP. MARLIN STUTZMAN: This is our time. This is when it really matters.

KEITH: Marlin Stutzman is a Republican congressman from Indiana.

STUTZMAN: Yes, we've voted to repeal Obamacare 30 to 40 times, but this is when it really counts. This is when it's time to put up or shut up.

KEITH: And so at the insistence of those like Stutzman, in the most conservative wing of the House Republican conference, House Speaker John Boehner is moving forward with a must-pass spending bill that also defunds the health care law.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: The fight here has been won. The fight over there is just beginning.

KEITH: "There" is the Senate - the democratically controlled Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid has a message for Republicans.

SEN. HARRY REID: I want to be absolutely crystal clear. Any bill that defunds Obamacare is dead, dead. It's a waste of time, as I've said before.

KEITH: New York Democrat Chuck Schumer puts an even finer point on it.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER: We will not blink. Don't get it into your heads that we will. We won't. Don't make it part of your strategy that eventually, we'll cave. We won't.

KEITH: The most likely scenario is that the Senate will take up the spending bill, restore the Obamacare funding, and send it back to the House - tag, you're it. But before they get a chance, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz says he's willing to try and filibuster the Senate's action.

SEN. TED CRUZ: I will do everything necessary, and anything possible, to defund Obamacare.

KEITH: Because of Senate procedure, he may not actually get a chance to filibuster. And even Cruz admits the numbers are against him. All summer, he's been pushing - campaigning, really - to force a fight over the health care law, with a possible government shutdown as leverage.

Utah Sen. Mike Lee has been right there with him. And he says the blame for a potential shutdown goes to the president and Democrats.

SEN. MIKE LEE: A shutdown is too much. We don't want a shutdown, we don't need a shutdown; we should avoid a shutdown. And Obamacare is a law that's going to harm people. And it certainly is not a good idea to shut down the government in order to force through the implementation of Obamacare.

KEITH: Arizona Republican John McCain doesn't seem convinced voters will buy that argument.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: It is not going to succeed because the American people do not want government shut down. And they'll blame Congress; they did before. It's not as if we haven't seen this movie before.

KEITH: Congress was blamed for the last government shutdowns, in 1995 and '96. It didn't turn out well for Republicans. So the question is, will they blink? What happens when the Senate inevitably sends a stopgap spending bill back to the House that doesn't defund Obamacare? If Speaker Boehner has a plan, he's not revealing it.

BOEHNER: I'm not going to speculate on what the Senate's going to do, not do; and where the votes are. It's way too early for that. We'll have plenty of time next weekend to discuss that.

KEITH: Yes, he said next weekend. He's already planning for this to go into the 11th hour.

Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.