WASHINGTON - With the government teetering on the brink of partial shutdown, congressional Republicans vowed Sunday to keep using an otherwise routine federal funding bill to try to attack the president's unpopular health care law.
Congress was closed for the day after a post-midnight vote in the GOP-run House to delay by a year key parts of the new health care law and repeal a tax on medical devices, in exchange for avoiding a shutdown. The Senate was to convene this afternoon, just hours before the shutdown deadline, and Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had already promised that majority Democrats would kill the House's latest volley.
Since the last government shutdown 17 years ago, temporary funding bills known as continuing resolutions have been noncontroversial, with neither party willing to chance a shutdown to achieve legislative goals it couldn't otherwise win. But with health insurance exchanges set to open on Tuesday, tea-party Republicans are willing to take the risk in their drive to kill the health care law.
Action in Washington was limited mainly to the Sunday talk shows and a barrage of press releases as Democrats and Republicans rehearsed arguments for blaming each other if the government in fact closes its doors at midnight today.
"You're going to shut down the government if you can't prevent millions of Americans from getting affordable care," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.
"The House has twice now voted to keep the government open. And if we have a shutdown, it will only be because when the Senate comes back, Harry Reid says, 'I refuse even to talk,'" said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
As Congress confronts a potential federal shutdown Tuesday and an Oct. 17 deadline to extend the government's ability to borrow money, what to watch for:
- The Senate: Convenes at 2 p.m. today, 10 hours before a shutdown would begin. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is expected to quickly move to kill the House legislation, a step that is not subject to a filibuster and permits majority Democrats to easily dispatch it. The Senate voted Friday to pass a "clean" bill to keep the government running.
- The House: Convenes at 10 a.m. today, but awaits Senate action. GOP leaders say that once they receive the Senate bill the House will bounce another measure right back to the Senate, but haven't said what it'll contain.
The battle started with a House vote to pass the short-term funding bill with a provision that would have eliminated the federal dollars needed to put President Barack Obama's health care overhaul into place. The Senate voted along party lines to strip that out and lobbed the measure back to the House.
The latest House measure, passed early Sunday by a near party-line vote of 231-192, sent back to the Senate two key changes: a one-year delay of key provisions of the health insurance law and repeal of a new tax on medical devices that partially funds it, steps that still go too far for The White House and its Democratic allies on Capitol Hill.
Senate rules often make it difficult to act quickly, but the chamber can act on the House's latest proposals by simply calling them up and killing them.
Eyes were turning to the House for its next move. One of its top leaders vowed the House would not simply give in to Democrats' demands to pass the Senate's "clean" funding bill.