CAPITOL HILL —
With hours to go before a threatened U.S. government shutdown begins, Congress remains unable to agree on a bill to continue federal operations. The Republican-led House of Representatives continues to pass funding bills with measures attacking President Barack Obama’s signature health care law - and the Democratic-controlled Senate continues to dismiss them.
On the eve of a partial idling of the U.S. government, a legislative table tennis match continued on Capitol Hill. For a second time in three days, the Senate rejected a House bill that would extend federal spending authority, but would disrupt the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
The House responded hours later by passing a third spending bill with provisions to undermine Obamacare.
Speaker John Boehner said Republicans want to delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and assure uniform application of the law.
“This is a matter of funding the government and providing fairness to the American people,” he said.
Senate Democrats continue to insist they will block any bill that goes beyond funding the U.S. government.
“I have a very simple message for John Boehner: stop trying to force a government shutdown,” said Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Democrats say they will not allow Republicans to insert partisan agenda items into routine funding bills.
“If you give in to these tactics on any particular issue, it encourages them to happen again and again and again,” said Senator Charles Schumer.
But Republicans note that they already have dropped demands to repeal or defund Obamacare, and say they are now seeking similar concessions from President Obama and Democrats. Senator John Cornyn blasted the president’s refusal to negotiate on the Affordable Care Act.
“He [Obama] will not talk to the speaker of the House of Representatives or the Republican leader of the U.S. Senate," he said. "He will not talk to them, but he will negotiate with the Iranian president. He seems absolutely allergic to doing his job.”
At the White House, President Obama noted that he won reelection last year while defending Obamacare. The president accused Republican lawmakers of making unreasonable demands and abandoning their responsibility to help govern.
“One faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government does not get to shut down the entire government just to re-fight the results of an election," he said. "Keeping the people’s government open is not a concession to me. It is our basic responsibility.”
The Senate is expected to once again reject the new House spending bill. Asked if the House would vote on a Senate bill that simply extends government funding with no other provisions attached, Speaker Boehner had a terse reply: “That is not going to happen.”
Unless and until both houses of Congress agree on a spending bill that President Obama signs into law, a partial halt in federal operations begins Tuesday.