WASHINGTON—The Republican-controlled House on Friday approved a measure to keep the government running and cut funding for Obamacare, kicking the debate about the new healthcare law to a place where it has been largely ignored: the Democratic-controlled Senate.
The partisan 230-189 vote would fund the government until Dec. 15. The federal government faces a potential shutdown if lawmakers can’t agree on spending levels by Sept. 30, and the House’s move to attach a measure to derail Obamacare to this funding bill sets the stage for a contentious 10 days on Capitol Hill.
President Barack Obama has threatened to veto any efforts to defund his massive healthcare overhaul while Democrats in the Senate have vowed to block the measure before it even reaches the White House. But House Republicans, bolstered by polls showing that support for Obamacare has dwindled to 39 percent, argue the new health system must be stopped because it will transform the nation’s economy from a full-time workforce to a part-time workforce.
Friday’s vote signaled a shift among GOP leaders in the House who last week tried to push a bill that would have kept the government open without tying the measure to Obamacare’s future. But conservative lawmakers revolted and House leaders, also facing pressure from conservative groups, relented. Now House lawmakers are hoping it is time for senators to feel the pressure. Moments after the House vote, lawmakers held a rally asking senators to do something House members have already done numerous times: put their names on the record as being either for or against Obamacare.
“We had a victory today for the American people, and frankly, we also had a victory for common sense,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “Our message to the United States Senate is real simple: The American people don’t want the government shut down, and they don’t want Obamacare. The House has listened to the American people. Now it’s time for the United States Senate to listen to them as well."
Leaders in the Senate hope the showdown is short-lived. The Senate has long ignored the House’s efforts to defund Obamacare. And, despite House GOP assertions that this time the move to defund the healthcare reforms is tied to must-pass legislation, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is expected to use Senate procedures to strip the healthcare provision from the spending bill before voting on it. That would send the debate—and the pressure—on a straightforward government-funding bill back to the House.
“Republicans are simply postponing for a few days the inevitable choice they must face: Pass a clean bill to fund the government, or force a shutdown,” said Reid, D-Nev., taking steps to paint the Republicans as the scapegoats if the government shuts down.
But House Republicans are launching their own marketing blitz, arguing that if the government does shut down then Senate Democrats should be blamed for choosing to protect Obamacare over keeping the government running at current spending levels. Meanwhile, back in the Senate, some conservative lawmakers are pledging to do all they can, including holding up Senate business through a filibuster, to make sure the Senate doesn’t ignore Obamacare.
Sen. Ted Cruz, a freshman Republican from Texas with strong backing from the Tea Party, has been an early supporter of tying the defund Obamacare effort to any government-funding bills. Now House members have given Cruz his wish—a wish he traveled the country arguing for in trips enhancing his profile among grassroots conservatives. Now the spotlight likely will be on what Cruz does on the Senate floor next week.
“Now is a time for party unity; Senate Republicans should stand side-by-side with courageous House Republicans,” Cruz said after the House vote. “The fight to save America from Obamacare is just beginning—it may well go back and forth from the House and Senate several times—and a united Republican front means that Harry Reid and the president cannot ignore the American people.”
Cruz called on Senate Republicans to resist “procedural gimmicks” and fight to keep the House bill intact. He asked for a united front against any Senate motions to close debate on the bill that would set rules allowing Reid to detach Obamacare from the legislation and set a 50-vote threshold to keep Obamacare alive. Democrats have enough votes to easily reach that magic number. But Reid likely will move to cut off the ability of conservatives like Cruz to filibuster the bill by limiting the debate on the measure to 30 hours, evenly divided between both parties.
“I have said it before but it seems to bear repeating: The Senate will not pass any bill that defunds or delays Obamacare,” Reid said in his Friday statement.
That would place the government shutdown ball back in the House’s court. Congress faces a deadline of midnight Sept. 30 to avoid the first shutdown since 1996. At the rally touting their vote, House Republicans also moved to pressure Senate Democrats facing tough reelection fights next year in states that are not solidly Democratic. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., called out four senators—Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and Mark Pryor of Arkansas—wondering aloud where they stood on Obamacare.
Conservative groups quickly applauded the House vote while also increasing their pressure on Senate Republicans, suggesting that any Republican who votes for cloture, or to limit debate in the Senate, will be voting in favor of Obamacare.
“If 41 Republicans stand strong and oppose cloture, they can defeat Reid’s plan to fund Obamacare,” said Senate Conservative Fund Executive Director Matt Hoskins. “However, if Republicans waffle and vote for cloture, it will grease the skids for Reid’s plan to fund Obamacare. … Republicans like to say they are against Obamacare, but now is the time to prove it. Now is when it matters.”