WASHINGTON— Heat is building on balkanized Republicans, who are convening the House this weekend in hopes of preventing a government shutdown but remain under tea party pressure to battle on and use a must-do funding bill to derail all or part of President Barack Obama’s health care law.
The weekend session comes after the Senate on Friday sent back to the House legislation to keep the government’s doors open until Nov. 15, but only after Democrats stripped from the bill a provision to defund the Affordable Care Act, also called “Obamacare.”
Congress faces a midnight deadline Monday. Failure to pass a short-term funding bill by then would mean the first partial government shutdown in almost 20 years.
The Senate’s 54-44 vote was strictly along party lines in favor of the bill, which would prevent a shutdown of nonessential government services.
That tally followed a 79-19 vote to cut off a filibuster by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, which exposed a rift among Republicans eager to prevent a shutdown and those, like Cruz, who seem willing to risk one over derailing the health care law.
All 52 Democrats, two independents and 25 of 44 Republicans voted in favor. That included Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and most of the GOP leadership.
Cruz was whipping up House conservatives to continue the battle over heath care, urging them to reject efforts by Speaker John Boehner and other GOP leaders to offer scaled-back assaults on the law like repealing a tax on medical devices as the House response.
Some conservatives were taking their cues from Cruz rather than GOP leaders like Boehner hoping to avoid a shutdown, especially one that could weaken Republicans heading into an even more important battle later in October over allowing the government to borrow more money.
“We now move on to the next stage of this battle,” Cruz said shortly after the Senate vote. He told reporters he had had numerous conversations with fellow conservatives in recent days.
“I am confident the House of Representatives will continue to stand its ground, continue to listen to the American people and … stop this train wreck, this nightmare that is Obamacare,” he said.
GOP leaders had yet to announce a plan heading into an emergency meeting Saturday of House Republicans. A vote on the as-yet-unwritten measure seemed most likely on Sunday, leaving little time for the Senate to respond on Monday.
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., warned that the Senate will not accept any House measure that contains provisions opposed by Democrats. And he knows better than anyone that any single senator could slow down the Senate’s ability to return yet another version to the House.
“This is it. Time is gone,” Reid said. Republicans “should think very carefully about their next steps. Any bill that continues to play political games will force a government shutdown.”
Late Friday, more than five dozen conservatives rallied behind an amendment by Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., to delay Obamacare through the end of next year. That’s a nonstarter with the Senate.
If lawmakers miss the deadline, hundreds of thousands of nonessential federal workers would have to stay home on Tuesday, though critical services like patrolling the borders, inspecting meat and controlling air traffic would continue. Social Security benefits would be sent and the Medicare and Medicaid health care programs for the elderly and poor would continue to pay doctors and hospitals.
Also on Tuesday, Obamacare insurance exchanges would open, a development that’s lent urgency to the drive to use a normally routine stopgap spending bill to gut implementation of the health care law.
“I’m more concerned about the impact of this law on the American people than I am about my re-election,” said freshman Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C.
But veterans like Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a former head of the House GOP’s campaign arm, warned that the political risk of a shutdown is simply too great.
“I think anybody who doesn’t think it’s high risk is not playing with a full deck,” Cole told reporters. “Our numbers … are getting better. There’s every reason to believe the midterms will be favorable. They’re playing defense in the Senate. You don’t want to disrupt that pattern of events.”