By David Espo
WASHINGTON: Charting a collision course with the White House, the Republican-controlled House approved legislation Friday to wipe out the 3-year-old health-care law that President Barack Obama has vowed to preserve — and simultaneously prevent a partial government shutdown that neither party claims to want.
“The American people don’t want the government shut down, and they don’t want “Obamacare,” Speaker John Boehner said as members of his rank and file cheered at a celebratory rally in the Capitol moments after the 230-189 vote. He stood at a lectern bearing a slogan that read, “#Senate must act.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said it will — but not the way Boehner and his tea party-heavy Republican contingent want. Assured of enough Senate votes to keep the government open and the health-care law in existence, the Nevada Democrat accused Republicans of attempting “to take an entire law hostage simply to appease the tea party anarchists.”
Behind the rhetoric lay the likelihood of another in a series of complex, inside-the-Beltway brinkmanship episodes as conservative House Republicans and Obama struggle to imprint widely differing views on the U.S. government.
In addition to the threat of a partial shutdown a week from Monday, administration officials say that without passage of legislation to allow more federal borrowing, the nation faces the risk of a first-ever default sometime in the second half of next month.
House Republicans intend to vote to raise the nation’s debt limit next week to prevent that from happening. But they have said they will include a one-year delay in Obamacare in the measure to reinforce their determination to eradicate the program.
The same bill will include provisions to reduce deficits and stay the administration’s environmental agenda as the GOP seeks gains for its own priorities. Raising the cost of Medicare for financially better-off beneficiaries is one likely provision to be added, according to numerous officials. So, too, is a ban on federal regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.
Obama, who has said repeatedly he will not negotiate over debt limit legislation, called Boehner, R-West Chester, late in the day to tell him that directly. The speaker expressed disappointment, his office said, and responded that Congress “will chart the path ahead.” The White House said Obama also called House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Unlike other budget showdowns of the recent past, this one pits younger Republicans in the House against GOP veterans in the Senate, although not to the extent it does one party against the other.
Republicans are united in their opposition to the health-care law, which they say will force the price of coverage higher and prompt employers to reduce work hours for workers. But they disagree on how to attack it.
The bill that won passage on Friday was all but forced on Boehner and fellow House GOP leaders, who fear a repeat of the twin government shutdowns nearly two decades ago that inflicted serious political damage on Republicans.
Caution on the part of GOP elders was overwhelmed by tea party-aligned lawmakers, who were in turn responding to the urgings of outside groups and their allies in the Senate, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah among them.
The vote in the House was almost completely along party lines, and the administration threatened in advance to veto the bill if it should pass the Senate as well. Among Democrats, only Reps. Mike McIntyre of North Carolina and Jim Matheson of Utah supported the measure. Virginia Rep. Scott Rigell was the only Republican voting against it.
The Senate is likely to strip off the provision to defund the health-care law, as well as a different section that prioritizes debt payments in the event the Treasury lacks the funds to meet all its obligations. Reid and other Democrats then plan to send back to the House a bill whose sole purpose would be to prevent any interruption in government services on Oct. 1.
The next move would be up to Boehner and his rank and file. Unless they decide to surrender quickly, they could respond with yet another attack on the health-care law.