House Republicans voted early Sunday morning to prolong the showdown over a government shutdown, sending the Senate more provisions intended to undermine Obamacare as part of a stopgap spending bill to keep the government operating past Monday.
The high-stakes game of hot potato could end up bringing the government to a bureaucratic halt come Tuesday, given that Senate Democratic leaders have flatly refused to consider any measure that would weaken the president's signature legislative achievement.
Shortly after midnight, the House voted to approve a series of amendments to the Senate-passed version of a continuing resolution. While the Senate had stripped out language intended to defund Obamacare, House Republicans decided Saturday to try again with a one-year delay of the health care law, which they approved 231-192. Two Democrats voted with all but two Republicans for the Obamacare delay.
The Republicans voting against the delay were Reps. Richard Hanna and Chris Gibson, both of New York. Democrats voting with Republicans were Reps. Jim Matheson of Utah and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina.
The House also approved, 248-174 a repeal of a 2.3 percent tax on medical device makers that the Congressional Budget Office says would bring in $29 billion over a decade. Seventeen Democrats joined all Republicans on that vote. The chamber also voted to change the CR's expiration date from Nov. 15 to Dec. 15.
House leaders made the bill even more unpalatable to Senate Democrats by including a "conscience clause" allowing employers and insurers to opt out of providing coverage for contraception if they have moral or religious objections.
The measures were technically amendments to the Senate amendment to the House-passed continuing resolution, meaning the Democratic Senate could vote down the legislation in a single vote with a simple majority and send the CR back to the House yet again.
The House also passed a separate bill, 423-0, that would pay military personnel even in the event of a government shutdown — seemingly a concession that Congress won’t reach a CR agreement before Oct. 1. The “Pay Our Military Act” would, at least, soften the blow of a shutdown for military personnel, and, perhaps, dull the talking point that men and women in the military are risking their lives for IOUs.
Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., frequently reminded members to address their remarks to him, the presiding officer, and not to each other as they exchanged barbs of blame for the looming shutdown — yet members continued to make personal atttacks.
Democratic Rep. David Scott of Georgia shouted at Republicans — and over Republicans, like John Culberson of Texas, who shouted back — that they were consumed in partisanship.
"Your hate for this president is coming before the love of this country,” Scott said, claiming that Republicans intended to shut down the government “because you have been hijacked by a small group of extreme folks who simply hate this president.”
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., did an impression of President Barack Obama, ridiculing the president for refusing to negotiate on the debt limit.
“There will be no negotiations,” Rohrabacher said, imitating Obama’s deep baritone voice.
“If this government shuts down, it's because you haven't accepted the compromise that Republicans have reached out to you and offered,” said Rohrabacher.
But House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., a vocal critic of funding the government at sequester levels, charged Republicans with not being satisfied by the White House's concession that a CR would likely be held at $986 billion.
"The president said he'd sign your level," Hoyer said. "Your level. You've won. But you can't take 'yes' for an answer."
The heated debate spiraled into burning rhetoric as each side tried to top the other.
“For those tuning in to this debate, I want to make sure there's no confusion: This is not ‘Saturday Night Live,’” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel of New York.
As Congress runs up against a Sept. 30 deadline that now looks even more difficult to meet, many lawmakers predicted at least a short government shutdown starting Oct. 1.
House Republicans appear to be hoping that if a shutdown does occur, the Senate — and its majority Democrats — will get the blame.
But even before Republicans sent the CR back to the Senate, Reid called the vote “pointless” and said “the American people will not be extorted by tea party anarchists.” White House spokesman Jay Carney also weighed in on Saturday, saying, "Any member of the Republican Party who votes for this bill is voting for a shutdown."
But potential Senate action — or inaction — didn’t seem to faze House Republicans Saturday.
"We can't control the Senate,” said Rep. John Fleming, R-La. “We can only control ourselves, and we're gonna do what's right and we're gonna let the Senate take care of itself."
"If the Senate hasn't acted, then the Senate is to blame," echoed House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky.
But while House Republicans try to blame Democrats, a recent poll suggests Americans would lay more blame at the feet of Republicans. However, Democrats would hardly be held harmless. If the government shuts down, 44 percent of Americans would blame Republicans, 35 percent would blame Democrats, and 16 percent would blame all parties equally, a CBS/New York Times poll found.
That sort of polling might have made Speaker John A. Boehner’s choice easier. Faced with accepting the Senate’s CR and then having a revolt from his own conference, or taking on Obamacare and shutting down the government, Boehner made his stand.
The battle is shaping up to be a precursor to a potentially more economically dangerous fight: the debt limit. Obama and Democrats insist they will not negotiate with Republicans over paying the nation’s debt; Republicans insist they will need to extract concessions in exchange for raising the ceiling.
House Republicans might not want to cave on the CR, for fear of appearing weak as they try to extract concessions on a wish list of GOP measures in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.
On the more immediate concern — the CR — some House Republicans were already indicating a willingness to pare back their demands if the Senate rejected their newest legislative ploy.
Republicans emerged from a closed-door meeting Saturday eager to vote on their latest legislative offering. But with more than 800,000 “non-essential” federal workers facing furloughs, and many more who would be working without a paycheck, the stakes continue to mount — and both sides are adamant they do not want a shutdown.
The desire to keep the lights on, however, is running up against a desire to address Obamacare and an even more damning issue: time.
In the Senate — where expediency is even rarer than bipartisanship — Reid isn’t expected to bring the chamber back until Monday, just 10 hours before a shutdown would take effect.
Cristina Marcos contributed to this report.