The US House of Representatives has voted to fund the government through mid-December. But the bill passed with a Republican amendment defunding President Obama’s health care act, making a shutdown almost certain.
However, last-minute additions to the bill by House Republicans – who outnumber House Democrats 234 – 201 – threaten to derail efforts to avoid a government shutdown by Tuesday.
House Republicans had demanded the bill include a measure to delay the implementation of much of President Barack Obama’s signature health care act. They also voted to repeal a tax which helps fund the Affordable Care Act, known as “Obamacare.”
The move by House Republicans prompted a backlash from the White House and the Senate on Saturday.
“Any member of the Republican Party who votes for this bill is voting for a shutdown,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement, adding that President Obama would veto any measure which included a move to defund the Affordable Care Act.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called the move a political stunt by “anarchists” and vowed to vote down any bill aimed at dismantling Obamacare.
The latest political showdown began last week when the House passed a measure to fund the government through mid-December. That version also included a measure to defund the Affordable Care Act. However, the Senate removed that portion and passed the remainder of the bill.
In response, House speaker John Boehner and fellow Republican leaders narrowed their demands down to delaying the implementation of the Affordable Care Act for one year and repealing a tax on medical devices which brings in an estimated $30 billion (22 billion euros) annually to fund it.
The cornerstone of President Obama’s health insurance program – a website which helps Americans find health coverage – is scheduled to go into effect on October 1 as well. Opponents of Obamacare, including leaders in many conservative-leaning states, have worked to hinder its nationwide implementation, calling it government overreach.
A government shutdown would force hundreds of thousands of government workers to take unpaid leave and would bring other government services to a halt until lawmakers reach an agreement.
The latest version of the bill that was voted upon in the House of Representatives included a measure to ensure that military personnel receive pay in the case of a shutdown. Nevertheless, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel – himself a former Republican senator – weighed in on the latest showdown between Republicans and President Obama, calling it “astoundingly irresponsible.”
“When you look at the greatest democracy in the world, the largest economy in the world putting our people through this, that’s not leadership, that’s abdication of responsibilities,” Hagel told reporters while en route to South Korea.
“It is dangerously short-sighted and irresponsible, because what this will lead to in the United States of America if this continues is we will have a country that’s ungovernable,” he added.
The last government shutdown occurred in late 1995 and ended in early 1996 when the White House under Democratic President Bill Clinton and House Republicans, led by Newt Gingrich, reached an impasse over the 1996 federal budget.
kms/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)