WASHINGTON: Locked in a deepening struggle with President Barack Obama, House Republicans demanded a one-year delay in major parts of the nation’s new health-care law and permanent repeal of a tax on medical devices Saturday as the price for preventing a partial government shutdown threatened for early Tuesday.
Senate Democrats rejected the plan even before the House could post it online for the public. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., added that Obama “has stated that he would veto such measures if they ever reached his desk.”
Undeterred, House Republicans pressed ahead with their latest attempt to squeeze a concession from the White House in exchange for letting the government open for business normally on Tuesday. They also agreed to pass legislation assuring U.S. troops are paid in the event of a shutdown.
“I think we have a winning program here,” said Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, after days of discord that pitted Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester, and his leadership against tea party-backed conservatives.
There was no immediate reaction from the White House. Obama said Friday he would not be party to eviscerating the law he won from Congress in his first term, and spokesman Jay Carney said the administration would “absolutely not” back repealing the medical devices tax.
Apart from its impact on the health-care law, the legislation that House Republicans decided to back would assure routine funding for government agencies through Dec. 15.
The measure marked something of a reduction in demands by House Republicans, who passed legislation several days ago that would permanently strip the health-care law of money while providing funding for the government.
It also contained significant concessions from a party that long has criticized the health-care law for imposing numerous government mandates on industry, in some cases far exceeding what Republicans were willing to support in the past.
Bill keeps parts of law
GOP aides said that under the legislation headed toward a vote, portions of the health law that already have gone into effect would remain unchanged.
That includes requirements for insurance companies to guarantee coverage for pre-existing conditions and to require children to be covered on their parents’ plans until age 26.
The measure would not change a part of the law that reduces costs for seniors with high prescription drug expenses.
Instead, the measure would delay implementation of a requirement for all individuals to purchase coverage or face a penalty, and of a separate feature of the law that will create marketplaces where individuals can shop for coverage from private insurers.
The Senate rejected the most recent House-passed anti-shutdown bill on a party-line vote of 54-44 Friday, insisting on a straightforward continuation in government funding without health care-related add-ons.
That left the next step up to the House — with time to avert a partial shutdown growing ever shorter.
For a moment at least, the revised House proposal papered over a simmering dispute between the leadership and tea party conservatives who have been more militant about abolishing the health law that all Republicans oppose.
It was unclear whether members of the rank and file had consulted with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who has become the face of the “Defund Obamacare” campaign that tea party organizations are promoting and using as a fundraising tool.
Instead, House Republican moderates and conservatives said it soon would be up to Reid and fellow Senate Democrats to decide whether the government would remain open past the shutdown deadline of midnight Monday.
How will Senate respond?
Asked if the House measure would risk a shutdown, Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., said, “It depends on how long ... Reid wants to continue to be financially irresponsible and obstructionist.”
Said Rep. Charles Dent, R-Pa.: “Once this passes the House, the Senate’s going to have to make a decision. Will they move quickly or will they dawdle?”
Left unspoken was how the House would respond if the Senate rejected the measure and insisted once more on a bill with no extraneous items.
There was little doubt that Reid had the votes to block a one-year delay in the health-care program widely known as “Obamacare.”
It appeared the Republicans’ chances of winning a concession centered on the medical device tax, which was incorporated into the health law to help pay its costs.
Some Republicans noted that the Senate has taken a nonbinding 79-20 vote to repeal the levy, and that several members of Obama’s party supported the proposal.
In fact, the total was more than half the Democratic senators, 33 in all. Those in favor included members of the leadership, Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Charles Schumer of New York among them.
“What will move this is if there are other Democratic senators who put pressure on Reid,” said Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C.