Obama: Government shutdown 'height of irresponsibility'

President says House tying federal budget to health care reform will hurt citizens across US

President Barack Obama speaks on Monday about the possible government shutdown.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

President Barak Obama said Monday that rollout of his administration's health care overhaul, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), would continue, and that any move by Congress to subvert it by tying conditions to the passing of a stop-gap federal budget resolution was the "height of irresponsibility."

"One faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government doesn’t get to shut down the entire government," he told reporters at the White House. "You don’t get to extract a ransom for doing your job."

Obama added that the a government shutdown was "entirely preventable" and accused Republicans in the House of Representatives of manufacturing a crisis that would hurt the economy and citizens across the country.

"A shutdown will have a very real economic impact on real people right away," Obama said.

Obama said his hope and expectation was that lawmakers would still do the right thing and prevent a shutdown.

Earlier Monday, the Senate voted 54-46 to reject conditions imposed by House GOP on a temporary spending bill that would delay President Barack Obama's health care law for one year.

The Senate has since sent the bill back to the House, essentially forcing Republican House Speaker John Boehner to make the decision as to whether to permit a vote on the Senate version of the continuing resolution, or CR, vote on a new version with different conditions added by House GOP, or forgo a new vote altogether. If the two parties cannot reach an agreement by midnight, the federal government will temporarily shut down for the first time in 17 years.  

The House is believed to be considering options that would allow a budget resolution to pass, but delay provisions of the ACA by one year, GOP aides told The Washington Post. Among other options floated was eliminating health-insurance subsidies for lawmakers and staff.

The Republican-led House passed its spending bill early Sunday to keep the government funded through Dec. 15, but it included several changes to the ACA that the Democratic-led Senate rejected before and has vowed to block again. 

One change would repeal a medical-device tax that is intended to help fund the ACA by raising an estimated $30 billion over 10 years. Another is the so-called conscience clause, which would allow employers to opt out of some forms of preventive care — including contraception — to which they have moral objections.

"Once again House Republicans have found a way to mount an ideological attack on women's health as the clock ticks down on the crisis they created," Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in a release.

The Obama administration, in response to a previous outcry from Republicans, decided to allow religious nonprofit employers to opt out of such coverage.

But for some, that concession was not enough, and the requirement to provide those aspects of women's health care is still seen as a violation of religious freedom.

"This provision is a victory for our religious liberty as guaranteed by the First Amendment … With the HHS mandate to provide abortion drugs, contraceptives and sterilization, millions of Americans … are currently being forced to violate their deeply held religious beliefs," Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan. — who pushed for the amendment — said in a release.

If there is no remarkable pullback by either side and no stopgap measure is passed before midnight Monday, hundreds of thousands of federal employees will be furloughed or asked to work with no pay beginning early Tuesday.

Deadline looms

Before the Senate vote Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid repeatedly vowed to oppose any spending bill tied to the ACA.

In the event of a shutdown, about 800,000 workers would be forced off the job without pay. Some critical services such as patrolling the borders, inspecting meat and controlling air traffic would continue. Social Security benefits would be sent, and the Medicare and Medicaid health care programs for the elderly and poor would continue to pay doctors and hospitals.

For most of Sunday, discussion of the budget wrangling was confined mainly to the Sunday talk shows and a barrage of press releases from Democratic and Republican lawmakers as politicians rehearsed arguments blaming the opposition if the government does in fact close its doors.

"You're going to shut down the government if you can't prevent millions of Americans from getting affordable care," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.

"The House has twice now voted to keep the government open. And if we have a shutdown, it will only be because when the Senate comes back, Harry Reid says,  'I refuse even to talk,'" said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who last week embarked on a 21-hour filibuster against allowing the temporary funding bill to advance if it was stripped of a Tea Partybacked provision to derail health care reforms. That effort failed.

The White House said Saturday that Obama would veto any bill that would halt or delay his administration's signature health care law.

The funding standoff is a harbinger of the next big political battle, a far more consequential bill to increase the federal government's borrowing limit. Failure to raise the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling by mid-October would force the United States to default on some payment obligations — which could cripple its economy and send shock waves around the globe.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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