WASHINGTON – Defying threats from Senate Democrats to reject all attempts to curtail President Obama’s healthcare law, the Republican-led House on Saturday amended a government-spending bill to delay the law for a year, increasing the likelihood of a government shutdown Tuesday.
The 231-192 vote during a rare Saturday night session was a key component of the latest plan by House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) in response to the Senate’s action Friday to pass a government-spending bill without GOP-favored provisions aimed at undermining the Affordable Care Act.
The House also voted 284-174 to repeal a tax that the healthcare law imposes on medical-device manufacturers. A sizable number of Democrats have also supported repealing that tax in the past.
Separately, the House, voting 423-0, approved a bill to ensure members of the U.S. armed forces would continue to receive paychecks in the event of a shutdown, which will be triggered if Congress fails to agree on a spending measure by Monday, the end of the federal fiscal year.
Boehner won resounding approval for the plan from his often rebellious rank and file, who have pressured the Republican leadership to use the end of the fiscal year as leverage to derail the healthcare law. On Tuesday, the administration plans to roll out the online marketplaces that uninsured Americans will be able to use to buy coverage that would start next year.
The leadership presented the plan as one that offers fairness to the American people, since the Obama administration has itself delayed parts of the law that were not ready to take effect. Members often cite the administration’s decision to delay imposing a fee on large employers that do not offer some form of health insurance to their employees.
“A one-year delay by people who favor it might actually be what saves it,” said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista). “And for those of us who believe there are flaws, it gives the president an opportunity to do what he said he would do afterwards, which is start negotiating absurd things like the medical device tax out of Obamacare.”
Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) said, “The American people have been speaking very loud and clear all across the country. They want the government open. They want Obamacare gone. I think this is a happy medium.”
The Senate will have just two days to either accept the House changes or dismiss them. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called the House votes “pointless,” and the White House threatened to veto.
“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 American people will not be extorted by tea party anarchists.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said before the voting that any Republican who votes for the bill “is voting for a shutdown.”
“Republicans have tried and failed to defund or delay the healthcare law more than 40 times, and they know this demand is reckless and irresponsible. The president has shown that he is willing to improve the healthcare law and meet Republicans more than halfway to deal with our fiscal challenges, but he will not do so under threats of a government shutdown that will hurt our economy,” Carney said.
Although most Republicans supported the plan, some privately and publicly worried about the possible political fallout if the strategy were to provoke a shutdown.
At the Saturday afternoon closed-door Republican meeting, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) urged his colleagues to keep the “big picture” in mind.
Leaving a second closed-door Republican meeting just before the first votes, Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) said that he supported the new strategy but that a government shutdown would be “inexcusable.”
“If this is part of a process, fine. I’ll vote for it. But we can’t let the government shut down. If we do, we’ve just allowed people to hijack our party and the government,” he said.