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Defying Senate, House Votes to Delay Obamacare

Defying Senate, House Votes to Delay Obamacare

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - September 29, 2013

The Republican-led House of Representatives voted early Sunday morning to fund the government through mid-December but delay the Affordable Care Act for a year -- a defiant bid that the Senate's Democratic leader vowed to reject, thereby increasing the chances of a shutdown on Sept. 30.

The bill includes a provision to repeal the medical device sales tax, a levy that would raise $30 billion for the health care law. In a separate vote, the House unanimously agreed to fund the military even if the government does shut down, which all but concedes such an outcome will occur.

The Senate is slated to return on Monday afternoon, just hours before the funding deadline, to consider its next move.

In a statement, Majority Leader Harry Reid said: “To be absolutely clear, the Senate will reject both the one-year delay of the Affordable Care Act and the repeal of the medical device tax. After weeks of futile political games from Republicans, we are still at square one: Republicans must decide whether to pass the Senate’s clean CR, or force a Republican government shutdown.”

In its own statement released late Saturday in anticipation of the House action, the White House accused House Republicans of making “an ideological point by demanding the sabotage of the health care law,” labeling the latter effort “reckless and irresponsible.” The statement added that “any member of the Republican Party who votes for this bill is voting for a shutdown.”

After the vote, House GOP members characterized the Obamacare postponement as a compromise, having previously voted to defund the ACA, according to The Hill. “This bill is not about whether ObamaCare is going to come in or not. What we're voting on is whether or not you'll accept the compromise which we have reached out to offer,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California.

The vote to delay implementation of the ACA was 231-192, with two Democrats, Jim Matheson of Utah and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, joining Republicans. Two GOP House members voted against: Chris Gibson and Richard Hanna, both of New York.

The tally to eliminate the 2.3 percent tax on medical devices was 248-174. Seventeen Democrats voted in favor.

Earlier in the long legislative day, Republican lawmakers leaving a rare Saturday afternoon conference meeting celebrated the plan outlined by Speaker John Boehner and other House GOP leaders. “I think everybody was ecstatic,” Rep. Tom Cole, a deputy whip and a Boehner ally, told reporters in the basement of the Capitol after the meeting.

Cole tipped his hat to the leadership team for corralling members around the plan, given that “they had no earthly idea” about it heading into the meeting. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who has been a conservative irritant to Boehner before, said members were chanting their approval during the gathering.

“We will do our job and send this bill over, and then it’s up to the Senate to pass it and stop a government shutdown,” Boehner said.

“The speaker has been very candid that he doesn’t want a shutdown. He thinks it’s a bad idea, bad for the country,” Cole said. “That’s why we are moving very rapidly.”

A week ago, House Republicans celebrated a bill they passed and sent to the Senate that stripped funding for the health care law. The Senate rejected the Obamacare provision on Friday along party lines.

Members leaving Saturday’s meeting demurred on questions from reporters asking whether their gambit would lead to a shutdown, given that Senate Democratic leaders have refused to accept any conditions attached to their version of the bill, which funds the government through Nov. 15 and keeps Obamacare funding in place.

“How dare you assume a failure! How dare you!” a riled up Rep. Darrell Issa responded when asked by a reporter about what happens next. “The fact is, this country is based on people saying they won’t do things and at the end of the day coming together to compromise. We continue to anticipate that there is an opportunity for sensible compromise.”

Other lawmakers seemed resigned despite any potential fallout. “Republicans will probably get blamed for whatever happens,” said Rep. Trent Franks. “But it remains to us to do the right thing, and at least maintain the focus on the country, and hopefully the politics in the end will take care of itself.”

GOP lawmakers asserted that Democrats and President Obama are cheering for a shutdown because, in the words of Rep. Raul Labrador, they are putting “politics ahead of the people of the United States.”

“We don’t want a shutdown,” he said. “There is no Republican in there talking about a shutdown. Our first request was to completely defund Obamacare. I understand why the Democrats rejected that. Our second request is to do a one-year delay of Obamacare. … I don’t think there is anything wrong with asking for a delay.”

Asked how the GOP leadership was handling the funding issue, Labrador said, “They’re listening. I think that’s fantastic.” (The Idaho congressman voted against Boehner earlier this year in the speakership election.)

Cole expects the two amendments related to the health care law to drive a wedge between Democrats. In a non-binding Senate vote to repeal the device tax, 33 Democrats joined Republicans to overturn it; other Democrats, however, say such a measure doesn’t belong in the funding bill with a shutdown at stake and should be treated separately.

Cole said that the House legislation should make red-state Democrats up for re-election in 2014 wary of opposing it. However, all Democrats supported the Senate version on Friday. House members leaving Saturday afternoon’s meeting pointed to Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin’s support for delaying the individual mandate for a year, even though the West Virginia lawmaker said he does not favor tying it to the shutdown showdown. Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, who has previously chaired the upper chamber’s campaign arm, said the House tactic didn’t work in 2012 and insisted it wouldn’t again.

The new measure likely won’t garner support from House Democrats. “Republicans have made their point, now we have to end it,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Saturday.

But Republicans are set to proceed. Asked whether there is a “Plan B” if the Senate rejects this latest tactic, Cole said: “There’s always a plan, but not one I necessarily know anything about.”

Adam O'Neal and Alexis Simendinger contributed to this report. 

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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