House Passes Obamacare Defunding Bill as Shutdown Looms

House Republicans cheer as Boehner arrives in the Rayburn Room for their rally following the House vote on a continuing resolution. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
House Republicans cheer as Boehner arrives in the Rayburn Room for their rally following the House vote on a continuing resolution. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted September 20, 2013 at 11:21am

Updated 11:58 a.m. | Bowing to conservatives, a united House Republican majority passed a continuing resolution Friday that would defund Obamacare and lock in sequester spending levels through Dec. 15, setting up a fight with Senate Democrats as a shutdown looms Oct. 1.

“We in Congress were sent to Washington by our constituents to fight for them,” Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said Friday on the floor. “We should pass this continuing resolution so the Senate can finally begin to do the same.”

The CR passed 230-189 with a nearly party-line vote. A single Republican, Scott Rigell of Virginia, voted no. Two Democrats, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina and Jim Matheson of Utah, voted in favor.

But that was the easy vote for House Republicans.

The real battle will be when the proposal bounces back from the Senate, with the Obamacare defunding language almost certainly stripped and the spending level potentially increased from the $986.3 billion the House passed.

It’s an open question whether House leaders can cobble together a coalition to pass such a bill — or hold a majority of Republicans on board.

Cantor didn’t want to entertain the idea that the Senate won’t simply pass the House’s bill. “Listen, I don’t want to bet against the Senate,” he told reporters, pointing to Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and the other Republicans who have been advocating the defunding strategy.

They “want to do everything they can to defund Obamacare. I support that. And I hope they’ll leave no stone unturned to do that,” he said.

Cantor also sought to put pressure on Senate Democrats up for re-election next year, including Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, and Mark Begich of Alaska, asking them to listen to their constituents and vote to roll back the health care law.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ripped the vote.

“Republicans are simply postponing for a few days the inevitable choice they must face: pass a clean bill to fund the government, or force a shutdown,” the Nevada Democrat said. “I have said it before but it seems to bear repeating: The Senate will not pass any bill that defunds or delays Obamacare. … Democrats stand ready to work with reasonable people who want to improve it, but Republican attempts to take an entire law hostage simply to appease the tea party anarchists are outrageous, irresponsible and futile.”

Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski says a short-term measure shorn of the Obamacare language will buy time for an effort to reach agreement on a broader spending package. “I want to get to a bottom line, but I can’t do it without a topline,” she said. “Passing a clean continuing resolution in the Senate is a start, but clearly we have a long way to go,” the Maryland Democrat said. That will, of course, toss the issue back into the House with just days before Oct. 1.

Once the Senate acts, House Democrats will also be put on the spot next week.

While the White House has said President Barack Obama would sign a “clean” CR at current spending levels, House Democratic leaders want more spending in return for their votes.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., have signaled that “right now,” as Pelosi put it, “the mood is not favorable to a 986 number.”

“Our whip has been very, very forceful, and I think he speaks for our caucus almost across the board when he says we just cannot have that number,” Pelosi said Thursday.

But Democrats could either have to swallow the current spending levels or risk getting shutdown blame themselves.

On Friday, Democrats trickled into the chamber to voice their opposition to the bill in, mostly, one- or two-minute segments.

“It is a wolf in wolf’s clothing,” Pelosi said, charging that the CR under consideration is designed to shut down the government. “It’s a terrible proposition for our families and our communities and our country.”

Hoyer, while clearly dissatisfied with the sequester, focused his opposition Friday on the defunding of Obamacare.

“That isn’t going to happen. And it is a blatant act of hostage-taking,” Hoyer said.

Either way, this won’t be the last vote the House takes on the CR. And as Congress begins bouncing their proposals back and forth, time also becomes an enemy as lawmakers approach the Sept. 30 deadline.

As lawmakers began the debate on the CR on Friday, Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., reminded lawmakers “in the House and the other body, that a government shutdown is a political game in which everyone loses.”

“A government shutdown, even the illusion of a threat of a shutdown shows to the American people that this Congress does not have their best interests at heart,” Rogers said.

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.