Showdown over Obamacare as Congress takes action
WASHINGTON — Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday plowed ahead with a bill to gut President Barack Obama’s health care law while temporarily funding other government programs, ignoring a warning from the White House that the measure would be vetoed.
The bill, which would keep the government running through Dec. 15 and avert shutdowns with the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1, faced its first test vote in the House on Thursday with passage of the measure expected today.
“We’ll deliver a big victory in the House tomorrow,” a confident House Speaker John Boehner told reporters on Thursday.
The administration wasted no time in formally announcing that it would not allow House Republicans to destroy the “Obamacare” health care law by denying funds.
In a terse statement, the White House said the House bill would be vetoed “because it advances a narrow ideological agenda that threatens our economy and the interests of the middle class.” The statement went on to say that “millions of hard-working middle class families” would be denied affordable health coverage.
New Hampshire’s two U.S. House members both Democrats, opposed the Republican move.
U.S. Rep. Ann Kuster said, “Instead of refighting old political battles, both parties need to work toward a serious compromise that will responsibly reduce the deficit, protect the middle class, and keep our government running.
“With less than two weeks to go until a possible government shutdown, we don’t have time for more political games,” Kuster said.
U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter said: “Democrats and moderate Republicans are standing by as Tea Party extremists threaten to shut down the government unless Congress defunds the Affordable Care Act. This is a law that was passed by Congress, signed by the President, and upheld by the Supreme Court.
“Forcing the government to shut down over ideological battles would mean that veterans’ benefits could be delayed or reduced, active duty military personnel might not be paid on time, and our economy would suffer a severe blow.”
Shea-Porter called it “an irresponsible political crusade. It’s time for extremists in Washington to stop holding Congress and the American people hostage.”
Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte said she supports the repeal of Obamacare but not at the risk of shutting down the government.
“We have to remember that right now we only have one-third of the government as Republicans,” she told CNN. “So I think right now we have to make every effort we can to make sure we can stop this law, but I don’t think we should shut down the government to do so, and I don’t think that’s a strategy that is good for America.”
Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen spokesman Shripal Shah said she “hopes both sides can come to an agreement to keep the government functioning. She doesn’t think partisan brinkmanship is at all constructive considering the challenges facing our country right now.”
Two announced Republican candidates for seats in Congress took different views of the Boehner proposal.
Former state Sen. Jim Rubens, an announced candidate for the U.S. Senate seat held by Shaheen, said on Wednesday that while Obamacare has added to the nation’s woes, Republicans “should not ask to repeal Obamacare without offering a better plan that will lower health care costs, improve health care quality and give us more control and choice in our own health care decisions.
He said that if he were in the Senate, he would try to build consensus on how to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, rather than voting to shut down the government if the health care program is not de-funded.
Republican former state Sen. Gary Lambert, an announced candidate for the 2nd District U.S. House seat held by Kuster, said he supported the House Republican plan.
“I want to fund the government to make sure the military personnel get paid and to make sure retirees get their Social Security checks,” Lambert said. “I’m also in favor of defunding Obamacare.”
This is the latest round in a series of battles Obama faces with Congress over the next few months in what has become an unending standoff over running Washington’s most basic operations, from the FBI and national parks to education and military programs.
And the Dec. 15 cut-off date for the funding measure guarantees yet another struggle around Christmas time.
Besides the spending bill, Congress and the White House have to either agree in October or early November on a measure to increase U.S. borrowing authority or plunge the nation into a first-ever credit default.
In 2011, as Republicans and Democrats fought over these same two issues, U.S. financial markets swooned because of all the uncertainty created by Washington’s inability to work together.
Between July 7 and Aug. 9 of that year, the Dow Jones Industrial Average blue-chip stocks plummeted 2,150 points, or 16.9 percent.
‘Stealth debt limit’ hike
The Republican bill is expected to attract no Democratic support and even some conservative opposition.
For example, Republican Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky told Reuters that he planned to vote against the measure because “it’s a stealth debt limit increase.”
Massie was referring to a provision of the bill that would instruct the Treasury Department to pay bondholders and Social Security retirement benefits even if Congress fails to increase the government’s $16.7 trillion borrowing cap that will soon be breached.
Assuming the House passes the Republican-backed bill to defund Obamacare and provide temporary government funds, it will be significantly altered by the Democratic Senate next week.
Democrats in that chamber plan to delete the House’s Obamacare provision and send the temporary spending bill back to the House for passage before the Sept. 30 deadline when the current fiscal year ends.