Night falls on the Capitol on the eve of a government shutdown in Washington, D.C.
(Photo: Michael Reynolds, EPA)
WASHINGTON -- The federal government is poised to shutdown for the first time in nearly two decades following more than a week of legislative jockeying by House Republicans to extract concessions from President Obama and Senate Democrats on the Affordable Care Act.
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House Republicans were on track to make a fourth and final attempt in the hour before a midnight shutdown to again advance a GOP-backed plan to delay the individual mandate to purchase health insurance on exchanges that begin the open enrollment period on Tuesday.
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Republicans were also seeking a motion to start formal negotiations with the Senate on the stopgap spending measure--an unusual request for a six-week spending bill the funds the government at current levels, but it provides Republicans a vehicle to keep the debate going.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he would not put a Senate-passed bill on the floor to keep the government funded through Nov. 15 because it does not include any provisions affecting the healthcare law. "That's not going to happen," he said.
The Senate voted twice Monday to reject House efforts to delay the individual mandate, repeal a 2.3% tax on medical devices enacted to help pay for the law, and a proposal to eliminate a proposed subsidy to members of Congress, their staffs, and members of the Obama administration to buy insurance in the new system.
Obama reiterated that he would not sign any bill that seeks to dismantle the law. "One faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government doesn't get to shut down the entire government just to refight the results of an election," Obama said at the White House.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., maintained the only way to avoid a shutdown is to approve the Senate-passed stopgap spending bill with no provisions on Obamacare. "They try to send us something back, they're spinning their wheels," Reid said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Democrats will deliver most of their 200 votes if Boehner would agree to put the Senate bill on the floor. "I think it's very clear Democrats are making an explicit offer to the speaker to keep government open. Whatever he may bring out of his caucus to bring to the floor, we hope that he will also give a vote to the clean (funding bill)," Pelosi said.
The House provision on insurance subsidies is a reaction to an Office of Personnel Management decision to provide members of Congress and their staffs the same amount of money they get now as part of the federal employees insurance system to pay for policies they will now have to buy on local exchanges, which are state websites where people can shop for and buy insurance.
"There should be no special treatment for the well-connected under ObamaCare. Delaying the individual mandate and withdrawing special exemptions for Congress is the fair thing to do," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said in a statement.
Some of the health care law is already in place, including provisions that expand prescription-drug discounts and allow young people up to age 26 to remain on their parents' health insurance policies. Tuesday is the first day for uninsured Americans to shop for and buy health insurance policies on the exchanges. Obama said Monday that those exchanges will open regardless of what Congress does.
"We're at an impasse that can only be resolved by Speaker Boehner going to his caucus and saying, 'Enough is enough,'" Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee and a former campaign committee chairman, said at a breakfast hosted Monday by The Christian Science Monitor.
The standoff has energized Tea Party organizations, which have made dismantling the health care law a top priority and have exercised substantial influence over House Republicans elected with their help since 2010.
"What's happening in Washington right now is largely a result of the grass roots speaking with one voice at the same time," said Dean Clancy, vice president of public policy for FreedomWorks, one of the leading Tea Party-affiliated groups. His group, which touts an e-mail list and social media following of more than 6 million, said it has driven more than 50,000 calls to Congress in recent weeks as part of the effort to defund the law.
"We are setting the agenda in Washington, and it feels good," he said.
Van Hollen said he's not sure when a shutdown will end. "I think the scary thing about this period we're in is that there's no clear end point to a shutdown," he said.
The last time the government shut down was in 1995-96 for a combined period of 28 days during budget standoffs between the Clinton administration and a Republican Congress. Most Americans would not feel the effects of a short-term shutdown because most essential government operations would continue, but a longer-term shutdown could negatively affect the economy and federal workers and inconvenience Americans in need of government services.