U.S.

Democrats ramp up vows to block GOP budget bill

White House says backing bill amounts to 'voting for a shutdown' of government

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, walks to a Republican caucus Saturday. Lawmakers are debating late into the night, working on a bill that would delay the start of large parts of the Affordable Care Act.
Molly Riley/AP

A House Republican plan to avert a federal government shutdown will not pass the Senate or the president's desk because it delays the start of the Affordable Care Act, the White House and senate majority leader said Saturday.

Republicans convened the House of Representatives this weekend in hopes of preventing the shutdown by passing legislation to fund government operations past the looming Oct. 1 deadline – but they are under pressure from the party's conservative wing to continue their battle against President Barack Obama's health care law, which has become part of the debate over the funding bill.

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Explained: The Affordable Care Act

The weekend session came after the Senate on Friday sent back to the House funding legislation that would keep the government's doors open until Nov. 15. Senate Democrats stripped the bill of a Republican-added provision that would delay major parts of the health care law, frequently referred to as Obamacare, which aims to extend insurance coverage to millions of people.

The White House said Saturday that Obama would veto any bill that seeks to delay or defund his signature health care law.

“Any member of the Republican Party who votes for this bill is voting for a shutdown," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.  

"It's time for the House to listen to the American people and act, as the Senate has, in a reasonable way to pass a bill that keeps the government running and move on," he said.

Earlier Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Senate would reject House Republicans' new anti-shutdown bill, which would fund the government through Dec. 15 but delay much of the health care act’s implementation.

"Today's vote by House Republicans is pointless. As I have said repeatedly, the Senate will reject any Republican attempt to force changes to the Affordable Care Act through a mandatory government funding bill or the debt ceiling," Reid said.

The Republican-controlled House was expected to vote on the bill late Saturday evening.

Republican response

As tensions rose ahead of the vote Saturday, Republican lawmakers blamed Democrats for the potential shutdown. 

"Harry Reid will be shutting down the government if he doesn't accept this pretty sensible solution to the debate that we're having right now," Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, told AFP.

The Republican plan "is exactly what we wanted," Labrador said.

Rep. Darrel Issa, R-Calif., offered a brusque response to a reporter who asked him what Republicans would do when the Senate rejects their bill.

“How dare you presume a failure,” Mr. Issa said. “We continue to believe there’s an opportunity for sensible compromise, and I will not accept from anybody the assumption of failure.”

Al Jazeera's Libby Casey, reporting from Washington, said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, must balance the concerns of moderate Republicans, who are wary of the shutdown, with the demands of Republicans who are further to the right – some of whom would welcome a halt to federal services.

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., told The Associated Press that the new bill would also repeal a new tax on medical devices in the Affordable Care Act. In addition, Republicans will try to pass a bill that would get paychecks to members of the military on time if a shutdown occurs.

Congress faces a midnight deadline on Monday. Failure to pass a short-term funding bill by then would mean the first partial government shutdown in almost 20 years.

A single, agreed-upon version must be approved by both houses of Congress and signed by Obama by Tuesday.

Results of a shutdown

On Friday, Obama warned that a government shutdown could cause economic calamity worldwide.

"We don't understand the dangers involved (in a government shutdown), because no Congress has ever threatened to default," said Obama, who added that if the House fails to approve a Senate-passed bill to solve the budget crisis by Monday, the United States’ economic woes will take a toll "on the world economy."

"America is the bedrock of world investment," Obama said. "The dollar is the reserve currency. That's why you don't fool with it."

The Senate's 54-44 vote was strictly along party lines in favor of the bill, which would prevent a shutdown of non-essential government services.

That tally followed a 79-19 vote to cut off an effort by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas to speak all night and through morning in favor of using the spending bill to kill the health care law.

"I am confident the House of Representatives will continue to stand its ground, continue to listen to the American people and ... stop this train wreck, this nightmare that is Obamacare," Cruz said.

Some criticized Cruz’s speech as political grandstanding. And Obama accused Republicans on Friday of paying too much attention to the fringe elements of the party.

"Do not threaten to burn the house down because you haven’t gotten 100 percent of your way," Obama said. "Pay our bills on time. Refocus on the everyday concerns of the American people."

If lawmakers blow the deadline, hundreds of thousands of nonessential federal workers would have to stay home on Tuesday, though critical services like patrolling the borders, inspecting meat and controlling air traffic would continue. Retirement benefits would be sent and health care programs for the elderly and poor would continue to pay doctors and hospitals.

Department of Defense Comptroller Robert F. Hale said at a news conference Friday that the agency would be forced to furlough 400,000 of its 800,000 workers.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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