It’s a seemingly never-ending game of back and forth between the House and Senate: GOP lawmakers in the House dared Senate Democrats to shut down the government over Obamacare, and in the end, the Senate complied.
House Republicans even proposed a conference committee to hash out differences between congressional spending bills, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., refused to negotiate anything but a “clean” spending bill that would in no way affect the implementation of Obamacare.
The end result is the beginning of the government “shut down” that many legislators and President Obama said they had hoped to avoid.
The House had passed one more spending bill with provisions to slow down Obamacare, by a vote of 228-201. Twelve Republicans voted against it, and nine Democrats voted for it. But the Senate quickly slapped it down.
It would have delayed the individual mandate, the requirement that everyone buy health insurance. The mandate that requires employers to provide health insurance has already been delayed by a year.
The House bill would also cancel generous health-insurance subsidies for members of Congress and staff, the president and administration appointees.
As a Senate Democratic aide told NBC News, the Senate promptly removed the Obamacare delay and sent the “clean” funding bill back to the House.
“They try to send us something back, they’re spinning their wheels. We are not going to change Obamacare,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said of the House. “Our negotiation is over with and I’ve said for two weeks: They should pass a CR. They are closing down the government, I don’t know what in the world is wrong with them.”
Democrats are demanding a so-called “clean” continuing resolution, that is, a spending bill that does not touch Obamacare. But, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters House Republicans didn’t even discuss passing a clean CR, at their meeting today.
Reid had already said he will reject those provisions, which will cause a midnight deadline to pass without Congress passing a bill to keep the government funded.
Republicans are counting on the public to blame Democrats for the shutdown, just as Democrats expect Republicans to get the blame.
Senate rejects bill
Earlier Monday, the Senate rejected a bill that would have kept the government running but delayed Obamacare by a year.
Fifty-four senators voted to table the bill, effectively killing it. All 46 Republican senators voted against tabling the bill.
The high-stakes game of chicken began earlier this month when the House passed a spending bill that would fund the entire government, except Obamacare.
When the Senate rejected that Friday, the House quickly sent another back bill, only this time with a provision that would keep military paychecks coming and another measure that would repeal a medical device tax.
The Senate then rejected that immediately after convening today at 2 p.m. EST, just 10 hours before the deadline to keep the government funded.
Back to the House
If a bill to keep the government running is not passed by midnight, all but “essential services” of the government will be shut down.
President Obama said, “I am not at all resigned” to a shutdown, while speaking to reporters in the Oval Office during a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Obama said he plans to speak with congressional leaders Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, but again insisted he will not negotiate over the spending bill, the health-care law or his intention to raise the debt ceiling, even with a debt that has now grown to an astronomical $16.9 trillion.
He claimed to be “eager” to negotiate long-term spending plans once the government is funded (including Obamacare) and the debt ceiling is raised by the deadline of Oct. 17.
That wouldn’t leave much for the Republicans to negotiate, with the president claiming, “There can be no meaningful negotiations under a cloud of default.”
The president offered a “simple solution,” saying House Republicans should pass the Senate-approved budget without delaying or defunding Obamacare, which is exactly what House Republicans voted overwhelmingly to oppose.
The blame game is now fully underway, with both Democrats and Republicans jockeying to win the public relations battle, and knowing exactly who to blame for the looming government shutdown: each other.
Former President Bill Clinton said the GOP “was just sitting around, begging for America to fail.”
He defended Obamacare, claiming Republicans “are desperate for this bill to fail, because if it’s not a failure, their whole — everything they’ve been telling us since 1980 that government’s bad, is wrong. They so badly want it to fail.”
When reminded polls show most Americans don’t want Obamacare, Clinton essentially said they’ll get used to it.
He told ABC News, “I just think that when all these dire predictions don’t come out, if they don’t — I believe that pretty soon, within the next several years, this will be like Medicare and Medicaid. And it’ll be a normal part of our life. And people will be glad it’s there.”
Who wants a shutdown?
Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said it is Democrats and Obama who want a shutdown because they are putting “politics ahead of the people of the United States.”
“There is no Republican in there talking about a shutdown. Our first request was to completely defund Obamacare. I understand why the Democrats rejected that. Our second request is to do a one-year delay of Obamacare. … I don’t think there is anything wrong with asking for a delay,” he observed.
Sen. Reid said, “After weeks of futile political games from Republicans, we are still at square one: Republicans must decide whether to pass the Senate’s clean CR (continuing resolution), or force a Republican government shutdown.”
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., was not willing to concede defeat, scolding a reporter: “How dare you assume a failure! How dare you!”
“The fact is, this country is based on people saying they won’t do things and at the end of the day coming together to compromise. We continue to anticipate that there is an opportunity for sensible compromise,” he added.
NY Times: GOP ‘delirious’
The New York Times sided squarely with Democrats, claiming, “A few hours before midnight is the worst possible time to reignite the culture wars, but House members are too delirious with ideology to care.”
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the House had “done its work” by passing the funding bill Sunday morning.
He then chided the Senate for not also working over the weekend, noting, “Senate decided not to work yesterday,” and adding, “Well, my goodness. If there is such an emergency, where are they? It’s time for the Senate to listen to the American people, just like the House has listened to the American people, and pass a one-year delay of Obamacare and a permanent repeal of the medical device tax.”
“This is the old football strategy. When you get to where you want to be in a football game, you run out the clock. You run out the clock because you think you like where you are,” said Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., adding, “Sounds like my way or the highway is the Senate way.”
A conservative political action committee wants lawmakers to oppose all funding for Obamacare, “no matter what.”
The Senate Conservatives Fund said voters should contact their congressional representatives to tell them to “oppose all taxpayer money for Obamacare. Period.”
Follow Garth Kant on Twitter @DCgarth