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September 19, 2013

US Congress Divided as Federal Shutdown Looms

by Michael Bowman

Less than two weeks before a threatened U.S. government shutdown, leaders of the House and Senate have each ruled out the other’s demands for a funding extension. America’s latest fiscal standoff revolves around funding for President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.

Put simply, a core group of House Republicans refuses to extend federal spending authority that funds the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.” Senate Democrats refuse to consider any spending bill that omits it.

Leaders of both chambers dug in their heels Thursday. House Speaker John Boehner announced the chamber would vote Friday to keep the government running - without Obamacare.

“When it comes to the health care law, the debate in the House has been settled.  I think our position is very clear: The law is a train wreck [a disaster], and it’s going to raise costs. It’s destroying American jobs, and it must go,” he said.

If passed, the House bill would go to the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid made this announcement, “Any bill that de-funds Obamacare is dead. Dead. It is a waste of time, as I have said before. In fact, I told the speaker [Boehner] that last week.”

The Senate is expected to pass a spending bill that sustains funding for Obamacare. Unless an identical measure passes both houses of Congress by the end of the month, a limited federal government shutdown will begin.

Obama and Democratic lawmakers said there would be no negotiations on Obamacare, or on raising America’s debt ceiling. The federal government will exhaust its ability to borrow sometime next month.

Senator Charles Schumer said Democrats were united and will stand firm.

“We will not blink," he said. "Do not get it into your heads that we will. We will not!”

But Boehner said negotiations were needed, and that Obama’s stance on fiscal matters was indefensible, given his recently demonstrated willingness to strike deals with foreign leaders.

“So while the president is happy to negotiate with Vladimir Putin, he will not engage with the Congress on a plan that deals with the deficits that threaten our economy,” he said.

Democratic lawmakers said they were eager to find ways to improve America’s fiscal health, but insisted that a government shutdown or a debt default must not be used as bargaining chips.

“This is playing with fire. Legislative arsonists are at work when they start using the debt limit for their own agenda," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

The Affordable Care Act seeks to boost the number of Americans with health care insurance and to reduce health care costs overall. The law was passed in 2010, when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. Major components go into effect next month. Many Republicans see Obamacare as a damaging expansion of government power, and view looming fiscal deadlines as their last chance to derail the law.