Republicans in the US House of Representatives have turned up the political heat by passing a spending plan that defunds US President Barack Obama’s healthcare law, pushing Washington toward shutdown and possible default.
The US Congress now has just nine days to breach a bitter ideological divide and approve a short-term federal budget before several government agencies and programs shutter at the beginning of the next fiscal year on Oct. 1.
Lawmakers on Friday voted 230-189 along party lines to fund government operations at current levels through Dec. 15, setting up a showdown with the Democrat-led US Senate, which will consider — and almost certainly reject — the measure next week.
The Republican bill includes a provision that strips funding for the healthcare law, which its critics have nicknamed “Obamacare” and which the Republican Party has fought to repeal since its passage more than three years ago.
House Speaker John Boehner, whom Democrats accuse of caving in to extremists in his caucus, insisted the vote reflected Americans’ frustration with the ill effects of the health law.
“Our message to the US Senate is real simple: the American people don’t want the government shut down and they don’t want Obamacare,” Boehner said, to loud cheers from his Republican members.
With both sides insisting they will not blink in the face-off, the US careened into fiscal whitewater.
“We really have no idea — no idea — how this is going to play out yet,” a Republican congressional aide told reporters.
Obama looked beyond the shutdown threat to a more portentous battle next month — the need to raise the US borrowing limit, which Republicans have also vowed to try and block unless the healthcare law can be delayed by a year.
The president accused Republicans of risking a “tailspin” for the still recovering US economy by putting partisan zeal ahead of the good of the nation.
“If we don’t raise the debt ceiling, we are deadbeats,” Obama warned in a speech, saying it was “the height of irresponsibility” for House Republicans to threaten a government default unless they get their way.
Later, he telephoned Boehner to urge the House leader to fulfill Congress’ role in paying the nation’s bills, but Obama also said he “wouldn’t negotiate with him on the debt limit,” a Boehner aide said.
“The speaker was disappointed but told the president that the two chambers of Congress will chart the path ahead,” the aide added.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised defeat of the measure in his chamber, saying Republicans faced a stark choice: “Pass a clean bill to fund the government, or force a shutdown.”
All but one House Republican voted for the bill, which earned the support of just two Democrats from relatively conservative districts.
The Senate will likely approve a short-term budget with no Obamacare provision and send it back to the House, putting the Republican leadership under intense pressure to pass it, or revisit the healthcare debate and risk a potentially devastating shutdown.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has said the Tea Party faction is “playing with fire” and on Friday said it was time to “get our House in order” and avoid another crisis.
“What is brought to the floor here today is, without a doubt, a measure designed to shut down government. It could have no other intent,” she said.