WASHINGTON — Locked in a deepening struggle with President Barack Obama, the Republican-controlled House approved legislation early today imposing a one-year delay in key parts of the nation's health care law and repealing a tax on medical devices as the price for avoiding a partial government shutdown in a few days' time.
Even before the House voted, Senate Democrats pledged to reject the measure and the White House issued a statement vowing a veto in any event. Republicans are pursuing “a narrow ideological agenda ... and pushing the government towards shutdown,” it said.
The Senate is not scheduled to meet until midafternoon on Monday, 10 hours before a shutdown would begin, and even some Republicans said privately they feared that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., held the advantage in the fast-approaching end game. If so, a House GOP rank and file that includes numerous Tea Party allies would soon have to choose between triggering the first partial shutdown in nearly two decades — or coming away empty-handed from their latest confrontation with Obama.
Undeterred, House Republicans pressed ahead with their latest attempt to squeeze a concession from the White House in exchange for letting the government open for business normally on Tuesday. “Obamacare is based on a limitless government, bureaucratic arrogance and a disregard of a will of the people,” said Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind.
Another Republican, Rep. Darrell Issa of California, reacted angrily when asked whether he would eventually support a standalone spending bill if needed to prevent a shutdown. “How dare you presume a failure? How dare you? How dare you?” he said.
Apart from its impact on the health care law, the legislation that House Republicans decided to back would ensure routine funding for government agencies through Dec. 15. Under House rules, the measure went to the Senate after lawmakers voted 248-174 to repeal the medical tax, then 231-192 for the one-year delay in Obamacare.
A companion measure to ensure U.S. troops are paid in the event of a shutdown passed unanimously.
The government spending measure marked something of a reduction in demands by House Republicans, who passed legislation several days ago that would permanently strip Obamacare of money while providing funding for the government.
It also contained significant concessions from a party that long has criticized the health care law for imposing numerous government mandates on industry, in some cases far exceeding what Republicans have been willing to support in the past. Acknowledging as much, Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said that as a conservative he had often found during Obama's presidency that his choice was “between something bad or (something) horrible.”
GOP aides said that under the legislation, most portions of the law that already have gone into effect would remain unchanged. That includes requirements for insurance companies to guarantee coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and to require that children can be covered on their parents' plans until age 26. It also would not change a part of the law that reduces costs for seniors with high prescription drug expenses.
One exception would give insurers or others the right not to provide abortion coverage, based on religious or moral objections.
The measure would delay by one year implementation of a requirement for all individuals to purchase insurance coverage or face a penalty, and of a separate feature of the law that creates online marketplaces in which individuals can shop for coverage from private insurers.
By repealing the medical device tax, the GOP measure also would raise deficits — an irony for a party that won the House majority in 2010 by pledging to get the nation's finances under control.
The Senate rejected the most recent House-passed anti-shutdown bill on a party-line vote of 54-44 Friday, insisting on a straightforward continuation in government funding without health care-related add-ons.
That left the next step up to the House — with time to avert a partial shutdown growing ever shorter.
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Chuck Hagel: Shutdown threat 'shortsighted'
ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT (AP) — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel criticized Congress on Saturday as “astoundingly irresponsible” and said that using threats to shut down the government to score political points is dangerously shortsighted.
Hagel, who oversees as many as half of the government civilians who would be furloughed this week if Congress doesn't reach a budget agreement by Tuesday, told reporters the impasse threatens to delay paychecks to troops serving in Afghanistan.
“When you look at the greatest democracy in the world, the largest economy in the world, and we're putting our people through this — that's not leadership. That's abdication of responsibilities,” Hagel told reporters on his plane en route to South Korea. “This is an astoundingly irresponsible way to govern.”
Hagel added: “It is really dangerously shortsighted and irresponsible, because what this will lead to in the United States of America, if this continues, is we will have a country that's ungovernable.”
Roughly 400,000 Defense Department civilians could face furloughs if Congress fails to agree on a short-term spending plan to keep the government running. And while military troops would continue to work, and eventually be paid, a shutdown would delay their pay until funding was restored.
There are about 800,000 civilians in the department and 1.4 million active-duty military members. About half of the civilians would be exempt from furloughs, and they would be paid retroactively only if the legislation specifies it.
Hagel said he has spent much time in recent weeks with his budget staff planning for the government shutdown while trying to identify more savings to meet looming budget cuts.
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