WASHINGTON – The GOP-led House approved a spending bill that would strip President Obama’s healthcare law of its funding, setting up a confrontation with the Democratically controlled Senate that risks causing the first shutdown of the government in nearly two decades.
The 230-189 vote was at least a temporary victory for the chamber's most conservative lawmakers, who had pressured the Republican leadership to back the "defund Obamacare" drive.
Advocates, including tea party-aligned advocacy groups, insisted that the looming deadline to approve a new government funding bill was the best leverage over Democrats since Republicans took over in 2011. The current authorization for federal spending runs out on Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year. The bill approved by the House and sent to the Senate keeps the government open until Dec. 15.
During the debate on the House floor, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) said that even Obama acknowledged his health law was flawed when his administration delayed for a year the requirement that businesses provide basic health insurance for their employees.
"We're fighting to give that same relief to all American families," Scalise said. "This law is unworkable. It's killing jobs in America. It's causing people to lose good healthcare they have today."
Freshman Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin) said the proposal was a "radical, right-wing effort to walk our economy off a cliff" before using a more explicit term to describe the conservative strategy.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said the proposal was "without a doubt, a measure designed to shut down the government."
"It is a wolf in wolf's clothing," Pelosi said. "Either you don't know what you are doing, or this is one of the most intentional acts of brutality that you have cooked up."
The House has taken about 40 symbolic votes to curtail the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The Senate has either rejected or refused to consider those bills. Democratic leaders say the outcome will be no different now. The Senate is expected to strip out the measure to stop the health law next week and send the bill back to the House with just days to go before the shutdown deadline.
"In case there's any shred of doubt in the minds of our House counterparts, I want to be absolutely crystal clear: Any bill that defunds Obamacare is dead, dead. It's a waste of time," Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters Thursday.
A number of Senate Republicans have criticized the defunding approach, arguing the party would be held responsible by the public for a shutdown. Even Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a chief proponent of the strategy, has acknowledged that Reid likely has enough votes to return a spending bill to the House without the Obamacare provision.
But Cruz and fellow Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah said they would use any procedural steps possible to reach a different outcome – perhaps staging a rare, traditional talking filibuster on the Senate floor.
Much of the federal government will cease operations after month's end unless Congress passes new legislation, referred to as a continuing resolution, to keep offices open.
While the House voted Friday, the president was headed to Kansas City, Mo., for an event at a Ford plant to tout America's economic recovery five years after the economic collapse. A White House official said the president will argue that "a minority of Republicans" is now threatening "to throw our economy back into crisis by refusing to pay our country's bills or shutting down the government."