House Votes to Delay Obamacare, Government Nears Shutdown
The Republican-led U.S. House voted to attach a one-year delay of Obamacare to a must-pass spending bill, dramatically raising the likelihood of a partial government shutdown Oct. 1.
The 231-192 vote early this morning, mostly along party lines, puts the House on a collision course with Senate Democrats and President Barack Obama, who say they won’t accept Republicans’ conditions for keeping the government operating. It is at least the fourth time in the past three years that lawmakers have taken the U.S. to the brink of a fiscal crisis.
The vote marks a sharp turn for House Speaker John Boehner and other Republican leaders, who earlier resisted taking a hard line on Obama’s 2010 health-care law until they gave in to the demands of a few dozen Tea Party-backed lawmakers.
“Let’s take a year and perfect, if you can, this bill,” said Representative Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican. “To say that what we’re after tonight is to shut down the government is just not so.”
The action now returns to the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said the chamber will reject the House amendment. He called the Republicans’ latest plan to gut the health-care law “pointless.”
A last-minute deal before Oct. 1 is still achievable though time is running out. One possible move is for both chambers to pass a short-term funding measure -- for a few days to a week -- to keep the government open and leave more time for debate.
The House plan would extend government funding through Dec. 15, a month longer than a plan passed by the Senate. The House also amended the spending bill to repeal the 2.3 percent excise tax on medical devices.
Seeking to deflect the blame for a shutdown, House Republicans are set to pass a separate bill that would ensure that U.S. troops, as well as some civilians and contractors who work for the military, are paid if the government shuts down.
Concerns that the budget impasse will hurt economic growth helped push the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index to its first weekly decline since August. The index fell 0.4 percent to 1,691.75 on Sept. 27 and dropped 1.1 percent for the week. The rate on 10-year Treasury notes fell three basis points to 2.62 percent.
A shutdown could reduce fourth-quarter economic growth by as much as 1.4 percentage points, depending on its duration, according to economists. The biggest effect would come from the output lost from furloughed workers.
Even if Congress resolves the spending fight, lawmakers would immediately move to the next fiscal dispute over raising the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling. Unless Congress acts, the U.S. won’t have enough money to pay all of its bills at some point between Oct. 22 and Oct. 31, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The House plan would postpone for one year a central provision of Obamacare: the requirement that almost all individuals obtain insurance. Tax subsidies scheduled to begin Jan. 1, 2014, would start a year later, and the measure would suspend some Obamacare taxes for the 2014 tax year.
The measure would allow employers with religious objections to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage to employees for a year.
While many Senate Democrats oppose the tax on medical devices, that doesn’t mean they want to use the spending bill to repeal it. The leading Senate advocate of ending the medical-device tax, Democrat Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, said she opposed doing it through the spending bill.
Budget brinkmanship has become routine in Washington, particularly since Republicans gained control of the House in the 2010 election.
The Senate passed a bill Sept. 27 that would fund the government through Nov. 15, omitting Republican language to choke off funds for the 2010 health-care law.
In a government shutdown, essential operations and programs financed with permanent streams of money would continue, meaning that Social Security checks would be delivered and military personnel would still work. National parks, Internal Revenue Service call centers and passport offices are among the federal facilities that could close.
House Republicans have voted more than 40 times to delay, defund or repeal all or part of the 2010 health-care law, which is designed to expand coverage to at least 30 million people. Some of the narrower proposals became law. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law in June 2012.
The first health-insurance exchanges open Oct. 1 and other portions of the law already have taken effect.
At the White House, Obama accused House Republicans of “political grandstanding” that has hurt economic growth.
“Do not shut down the government. Do not shut down the economy,” Obama said Sept. 27. “Pass a budget on time. Pay our bills on time. Refocus on the everyday concerns of the American people.”
The spending bill is H.J. Res. 59. The troop funding bill is H.R. 3210.
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