US Government on Verge of Shutdown as House Votes to Delay Obamacare
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Dan Thornberg
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
The US government is on the precipice of a historic shutdown that would result in hundreds of thousands of federal workers being placed on unpaid leave, after House Republicans refused to pass a budget unless it involved a delay to Barack Obama's signature healthcare reforms.
Democratic leaders declined to convene the Senate on Sunday, standing firm against what they described as the extortion tactics of their Republican opponents who they accused of holding the government to ransom for ideological reasons.
The resolution passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives in the early hours of Sunday morning makes funding the government until the middle of December contingent upon a one-year delay of the Affordable Care Act. It also strips the new healthcare law, which is due to come into force on Tuesday, of a key tax on medical devices.
Senate Democrats and the White House have said they will block any budget resolution that is tied to the healthcare law – known as Obamacare – which was passed three years ago and upheld by the US supreme court last year.
Undermining the healthcare reforms – the flagship legislative achievement of Obama's presidency – has been a priority for the conservative wing of the Republican party for years and the spectre of government shutdowns has been used in the past.
However there was a growing sense on Capitol Hill on Sunday that House Republicans were prepared to see through their threat of a shutdown, which would begin at 12.01am ET on Tuesday, even though polls show they would be blamed for a maneuver that could damage the party during next year's midterm elections.
"Republicans in Congress had the opportunity to pass a routine, simple continuing resolution that keeps the government running for a few more weeks," said White House spokesman Jay Carney. "But instead, Republicans decided they would rather make an ideological point by demanding the sabotage of the healthcare law."
Harry Reid, the Senate leader who on Saturday said he would refuse to bow to "Tea Party anarchists", showed no interest in negotiating with Republicans over the stalemate. He was criticised by leading Republicans for failing to invite the Senate to debate the House resolution, less than 36 hours from the budget deadline.
Instead, the Senate was expected to wait until Monday before stripping the Republican motion of its references to Obamacare and, for the second time in a week, returning a "clean" bill to the House that would fund federal departments, without also impeding the introduction of mandatory healthcare for Americans who are uninsured.
If there is time, the House would then have just a few hours to either vote to fund the government, free of any measures that would impede the introduction Obamacare, or trigger the first American government shutdown in 17 years.
Asked if he thought a shutdown was now inevitable, Richard Durbin, the second most senior Democrat in the Senate, replied: "I'm afraid I do."
Durbin told CBS's Face the Nation that he was open to negotiating over the tax on medical devices, "but not with a gun to my head, not with the prospect of shutting down the government".
Senior Republicans took to the Sunday morning talk shows to defend their stance, claiming that it was Democrats who were forcing a shutdown by refusing to compromise over the controversial healthcare reforms.
Congresswoman Cathy McManus Rogers, chair of the House Republican conference, said Reid was acting irresponsibly by refusing to hold a session of the Senate. "They're the ones threatening a government shutdown by not being here," she said.