By Thomas Ferraro
WASHINGTON | Sat Sep 28, 2013
(Reuters) – With conservative House Republicans promising not to back down on an emergency spending bill in a push to defund President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform law, the U.S. government edged closer on Saturday to its first shutdown since 1996.
Although a last-minute temporary solution including a possible 10-day extension of government funding had been raised on Friday, there were no signs Democrats and Republicans could reach a deal before the October 1 deadline.
No negotiations appeared to be underway between the two sides.
The Senate, as expected, passed on Friday a straight-forward emergency-funding measure to keep the government running through November 15, after stripping out Republican language to end funding for the 2010 healthcare law known as Obamacare.
Republicans who control the House of Representatives must now decide how to respond, a move that could come as early as Saturday.
Representative Tom Graves of Georgia announced on Friday that he and 61 of his colleagues would insist on a one-year delay of “Obamacare,” which is set to launch on October 1, as a condition of funding the government and averting a shutdown.
The push to make a stand on the healthcare restructuring, which Republicans view as a massive government intrusion that will cause premiums to skyrocket, has been bolstered by the conservative, anti-Washington Tea Party wing of the party.
Rejection of the funding measure would throw the ball back to the Democratic-controlled Senate, perhaps as late as Sunday or early Monday, with little time remaining to continue the political ping-pong.
All indications are that Republicans will tack on a new measure to that bill, which likely would be rejected by the Senate and make a shutdown all the more likely.
If Congress does not act before midnight on Monday, the government’s legal authority to spend money for routine activities runs out.
Spending for functions considered essential, related to national security or public safety, would continue along with benefit programs such as Medicare health insurance and Social Security retirement benefits for seniors.
But hundreds of thousands of civilian federal employees -from people who process forms and handle regulatory proceedings to workers at national parks and museums in Washington – would be furloughed.
Obama, in his regular Saturday address, accused Republicans of “appeasing an extreme faction of their party” bent on creating “a crisis that will hurt people for the sole purpose of advancing their ideological agenda.”
The Republican response, delivered by Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, focused not on a possible shutdown but on the next fight, over raising the government’s borrowing authority, which runs out in mid-October.
Republicans are likely to demand concessions-including the scuttling of “Obamacare” in exchange for raising the debt ceiling as well. While failure to do so could lead to a market-rattling default by the government, McMorris Rodgers defended the Republican tactic.
“By an overwhelming margin, Americans believe any debt ceiling increase should be coupled with solutions that help solve our debt and grow our economy,” she said.
While diehard conservative Republicans in the House remained determined in their pursuit to kill “Obamacare,” other members of the divided Republican caucus were despairing, privately and publicly.
Representative Shelley Moore Capito, a seven-term West Virginia Republican, told Reuters she had “no idea what’s going to happen.”
Capito said, “I gave up trying to make predictions a few years ago” after scores of lawmakers backed by the Tea Party movement helped Republicans win back the House from Obama’s Democrats.
“There’s a lot of exasperation by those of us who want to move the ball forward and in a rational way,” Capito said. “By rational, I mean trying to achieve the achievable.”
“There is a lot of frustration because there is absolutely no way to please certain members. That’s frustrating to all of us become it becomes an internal battle. Some of us feel we are in a circular firing squad,” Capito said.
The last government shutdown ran from December 16, 1995 to January 6, 1996 and was the product of a budget battle between Democratic President Bill Clinton and Republicans, led by then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
(Additional reporting by Rachelle Younglai and David Lawder; Editing by Fred Barbash and Paul Simao)