House Republicans Pass Obamacare Delay; One Step Closer to Shutdown

With Senate approval unlikely on Monday, the government will be out of money on Tuesday unless a last-minute deal emerges.

Sprinklers water the lawn outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, late Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013. 
National Journal
Tim Alberta Billy House Michael Catalini
Sept. 28, 2013, 10:40 a.m.

The House ap­proved a meas­ure early Sunday morn­ing that would fund the gov­ern­ment through Dec. 15 while delay­ing im­ple­ment­a­tion of Obama­care for one year, a polit­ic­ally risky man­euver that united House Re­pub­lic­ans but pushes the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment closer to a shut­down.

The le­gis­la­tion — which also in­cludes an amend­ment to re­peal the med­ic­al device tax and a sep­ar­ate pro­vi­sion to pay mil­it­ary mem­bers in the event of a shut­down — passed eas­ily, put­ting the con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion to keep the gov­ern­ment run­ning past Monday back in the Sen­ate’s court.

“They might have to come back from their va­ca­tion,” Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., who has led the charge for an Obama­care delay, said be­fore the vote. “Harry Re­id has to now de­cide if he’s go­ing to con­tin­ue for­cing this bad law on the Amer­ic­an people.”

The Sen­ate ma­jor­ity lead­er, though, has already dis­missed the House’s plan out­right. The Sen­ate, he an­nounced Sat­urday, will re­ject the delay of the Af­ford­able Care Act as well as the amend­ment to cut the med­ic­al device tax, which Re­id last week called “stu­pid.”

“Today’s vote by House Re­pub­lic­ans is point­less,” Re­id said in a state­ment. “Re­pub­lic­ans must de­cide wheth­er to pass the Sen­ate’s clean CR, or force a Re­pub­lic­an gov­ern­ment shut­down.”

To avoid a par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down, both cham­bers of Con­gress must reach an agree­ment by Tues­day, the start of the new fisc­al year. The Sen­ate ad­journed on Fri­day un­til Monday af­ter­noon, and sen­at­ors are not ex­pec­ted to re­turn early to re­spond to the House’s latest prof­fer.

But ac­cord­ing to a Sen­ate aide and a House Demo­crat, Re­id will move to table the House amend­ments to delay Obama­care and re­peal the med­ic­al device tax. Re­id also plans to shorten the time-frame for con­tin­ued gov­ern­ment fund­ing un­der the bill and have the CR ex­pire Nov. 15 rather than Dec. 15.

That means the Sen­ate is poised to send back ex­actly the same lan­guage it sent to the House on Fri­day, ac­cord­ing to the aide. And that would leave House Re­pub­lic­ans in a po­s­i­tion of ac­cept­ing a so-called “clean CR” or for­cing a gov­ern­ment shut­down on Tues­day.

Ac­cord­ing to House Re­pub­lic­ans, Speak­er John Boehner, R-Ohio, and his lieu­ten­ants already are con­sid­er­ing how to de­vise an el­ev­enth-hour re­sponse that could be ac­cept­able to a ma­jor­ity of con­ser­vat­ives in his con­fer­ence if the Sen­ate does not budge.

One op­tion, mem­bers said, is to re­vise the CR yet again — this time to in­clude an amend­ment from Sen. Dav­id Vit­ter, R-La., that would pre­vent mem­bers of Con­gress and their staffers from re­ceiv­ing ex­emp­tions from key Obama­care meas­ures.

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ar­iz., said he would sup­port that strategy, be­cause it would “make them live un­der this hellish law.”

Oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans, however, were non­com­mit­tal on that ap­proach. “It just de­pends on how many people are con­trolled by Ted Cruz,” sniped Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., a mod­er­ate who has vo­cally op­posed of the cam­paign against Obama­care moun­ted by the ju­ni­or Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­or from Texas.

For now, at least, House Re­pub­lic­ans in­sist that their con­fer­ence is uni­fied — a claim sup­por­ted by the votes taken early Sunday morn­ing.

The floor ac­tion con­sisted of three sep­ar­ate votes. The House first voted 248 to 174 to re­peal the tax on med­ic­al devices, with 17 Demo­crats join­ing 231 Re­pub­lic­ans in sup­port. The House then voted 231-192 to delay Obam­care’s im­ple­ment­a­tion by a year, with two de­fec­tions from each party. A third vote was un­an­im­ous to con­tin­ue ap­pro­pri­ations for mil­it­ary pay in the event of a shut­down.

Hours be­fore the votes, cheers erup­ted in a closed-door GOP meet­ing Sat­urday af­ter­noon after Boehner made it clear the House was not giv­ing up in the stan­doff with the Sen­ate and the White House.

“Let’s roll,” an ex­uber­ant Rep. John Cul­ber­son, R-Tex., shouted as col­leagues cheered Boehner. An un­for­tu­nate ana­logy, per­haps, be­cause Cul­ber­son later ex­plained he was evok­ing the battle cry of pas­sen­gers who tried to wrest con­trol of United Air­lines Flight 93 from ter­ror­ists on Sept. 11, 2001. That was the fourth plane to go down in that day’s ter­ror­ist at­tacks, crash­ing in a Pennsylvania field and killing all on board.

Rep. Pete Ses­sions, R-Texas, went on the House floor shortly after the meet­ing and called Boehner “our great speak­er.”

Those in the room Sat­urday said there was un­cer­tainty over what Boehner was go­ing to say about the House’s op­tions, giv­en the Sen­ate’s re­jec­tion of an earli­er House CR con­tain­ing lan­guage to de­fund the Af­ford­able Care Act. That lan­guage was stripped out by Re­id on Fri­day, provid­ing a “clean” bill deal­ing only with gov­ern­ment fund­ing.

But, as law­makers de­scribed it, Boehner walked up to the mi­cro­phone and pro­ceeded to mat­ter-of-factly de­tail what his new strategy would en­tail.

“People went bonkers,” with ap­prov­al, said Rep. Matt Sal­mon, R-Ar­iz. “They were very ex­cited.”

And as the meet­ing ad­journed, the ac­col­ades for Boehner kept on com­ing. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, a vo­cal crit­ic of lead­er­ship who just two days ago trashed Boehner’s pro­posed debt-ceil­ing man­euver, ex­ited the meet­ing and flashed a big “thumbs up” sign.

Even Rep. Michele Bach­mann of Min­nesota, who of­ten clashes with lead­er­ship and is known to reg­u­larly shun the me­dia, ran to­ward a horde of re­port­ers and de­clared: “It’s a fab­ulous bill!”

Des­pite the en­thu­si­asm, it’s clear that giv­en the warn­ings from the White House and Re­id, Sunday’s votes could bring the gov­ern­ment one gi­ant step closer to a shut­down. But House Re­pub­lic­ans — in­clud­ing some who met privately this week with Cruz — said Sat­urday they were not wor­ried that ex­tend­ing the battle with the Sen­ate might send the na­tion spiral­ing in­to a shut­down.

“Re­pub­lic­ans will prob­ably be blamed for whatever hap­pens,” Franks said. “So, what re­mains for us is to do the right thing.”

In fact, some GOP law­makers ar­gued that by act­ing quickly, they were do­ing the Sen­ate a fa­vor.

“We’re here for the week­end, we might as well work and get our job done — and give them plenty of time to get their job done,” said Rep. John Flem­ing, R-La.

Ad­ded Rep. Steve Scal­ise, chair­man of the Re­pub­lic­an Study Com­mit­tee: “We have a good plan … and we’re mov­ing quickly. The Sen­ate, if they’re ser­i­ous about not want­ing a gov­ern­ment shut­down, they ought to ad­dress this quickly.”

The en­tirety of the House Re­pub­lic­an Con­fer­ence seemed sup­port­ive of the bill, and some mem­bers went as far as to pre­dict un­an­im­ous GOP sup­port for the pro­pos­al. (The only Re­pub­lic­an de­fect­or on the bill the House sent to the Sen­ate earli­er this month was Rep. Scott Ri­gell of Vir­gin­ia, who op­posed the con­tin­ued se­quester cuts writ­ten in­to the bill.)

There is also op­tim­ism among Re­pub­lic­ans that some Sen­ate Demo­crats will rally to sup­port cer­tain pro­vi­sions of the bill. Mul­tiple GOP law­makers spe­cific­ally cited the sup­port for delay­ing Obama­care com­ing from Demo­crat­ic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Vir­gin­ia, and sug­ges­ted that oth­er red-state Demo­crats would be pres­sured to fol­low suit.

Law­makers said that the GOP bill and its amend­ments will be struc­tured in such a way that if the Sen­ate strips out the Obama­care lan­guage, it would re­quire the bill to come back to the House. “The speak­er made that very clear,” Sal­mon said. “If they change the bill in any way, it would have to come back to the House.”

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