CAPITOL HILL— The United States appears to be on the verge of a partial government shutdown, unless the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House can agree on a last-minute measure to extend federal funding authority past midnight. The Senate again rejected a House measure that ties the funding bill to a measure to delay implementation of President Barack Obama's signature health care law.
In the latest steps in a bitter budget battle, the U.S. Senate killed the funding measure sent over by the House, as Senate Majority Harry Reid had warned it would, because of the amendments pushed by House Republicans that seek to derail the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Leader Reid issued a plea to House Speaker John Boehner to let the House vote on a straightforward, clean measure to just keep the government running.
"Without being too dramatic about this, the fate of the country depends on the House being able to vote, the House, all members of the House of Representatives. I hope that John Boehner makes a responsible decision, one that is good for the country," said Reid.
House Republicans huddled in the basement to plan their strategy, and came out announcing that they once again will vote on another spending bill that would delay parts of the heath care law. House Speaker Boehner told reporters Republicans are holding firm to their insistence on slowing down Obamacare.
"We believe that everyone should be treated fairly. So we’re going to move here in the next several hours to take the Senate bill, add to it a one-year delay of the individual mandate on the American people... and get rid of the exemption for members of Congress. It’s a matter of fairness for all Americans," said Boehner.
The latest House bill calls for a one-year delay in the requirement that all Americans purchase health insurance, or face a fine, known as the individual mandate. It also would cancel health insurance subsidies for members of Congress and their staff, the president and administration appointees.
The health care law, backed by Democrats, would provide financial assistance to those unable to purchase the insurance. Democrats point out that the law was passed more than three years ago, and that President Obama was re-elected even though his opponent ran on a platform of repealing Obamacare. They also say it will allow millions of Americans to purchase health care for the first time.
A core group of conservative Republicans is staunchly opposed to the the health care law, saying it will hurt the economy and interfere in Americans' private decisions. President Obama spoke to the country late Monday, saying he is always willing to work with Republicans, but he called on those House Republicans to give in.
"But one faction of one party, in one house of Congress, in one branch of government, does not get to shut down the government just to re-fight the results of an election," said President Obama.
Analyst Larry Sabato said the budget brinksmanship is a contrived crisis that makes America look silly.
"The United States looks as though it cannot run its own government, that basic functions of government cannot continue under the current political alignment. It certainly undermines trust and faith in the United States, and it could get worse with raising the debt limit," said Sabato.
This drama may be the prelude to another one on raising the debt ceiling, which the U.S. Treasury says needs to happen by October 17.