WASHINGTON - Congress shows no sign of stopping the first government shutdown in 17 years as House Republicans were holding firm Monday against a stopgap bill that does not in some way affect President Obama's health care law.
The House of Representatives approved Monday evening 228-201 a third legislative effort on the funding bill to volley back to the Senate an amendment to delay the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act for one year, and to eliminate a subsidy provided to members of Congress and their staffs to help buy coverage under the new system.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., will table the amendment tonight, leaving just hours to go before a shutdown. Obama privately called the top four congressional leaders Monday evening to reiterate that he would not negotiate over a stopgap funding bill to keep the government running that includes provisions to dismantle the law in any way.
Obama publicly called the House Republican plan a move toward shutting down the government. "One faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government doesn't get to shut down the entire government just to refight the results of an election," Obama said at the White House.
The president's statement followed a back-and-forth exchange in Congress Monday afternoon that started with the Senate tabling without debate two House-passed amendments passed over the weekend to the spending bill that would delay implementation of the law for one year and repeal a 2.3% tax on medical devices enacted to help pay for the law.
The Senate voted 54-46 along party lines. "We're at the brink," said Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., "We're just hours away from a possible government shutdown."
House Republicans responded to the Senate action by offering the third proposal approved Monday night. Asked whether he would allow a vote on a stopgap spending bill that doesn't include provisions affecting that health care law, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said no. "That's not going to happen," he said.
The second House provision on subsidies is a reaction to an Office of Personnel Management decision to provide members of Congress and their staffs the same amount of money they get now as part of the federal employees insurance system to pay for policies they will now have to buy on local exchanges, which are state websites where people can shop for and buy insurance.
"There should be no special treatment for the well-connected under ObamaCare. Delaying the individual mandate and withdrawing special exemptions for Congress is the fair thing to do," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said in a statement.
Some of the health care law is already in place, including provisions that expand prescription-drug discounts and allow young people up to age 26 to remain on their parents' health insurance policies. Tuesday is the first day for uninsured Americans to shop for and buy health insurance policies on the exchanges. Obama said Monday that those exchanges will open regardless of what Congress does.
Obama and Reid maintain that the only way to avoid a shutdown is to approve the Senate-passed stopgap spending bill through Nov. 15 with no extraneous provisions on Obamacare.
"They try to send us something back, they're spinning their wheels," Reid said.
Boehner is unlikely to put the Senate-passed spending resolution to keep the government running through Nov. 15 on the House floor unless it is clear that a critical mass of Republicans will support it. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Democrats will deliver most of their 200 votes if Boehner would agree to put the Senate bill on the floor.
"I think it's very clear Democrats are making an explicit offer to the speaker to keep government open. Whatever he may bring out of his caucus to bring to the floor, we hope that he will also give a vote to the clean (funding bill)," Pelosi said.
House Republicans could also put forward an even-shorter stopgap measure for one week or less to keep the government open and buy leaders more time.
"We're at an impasse that can only be resolved by Speaker Boehner going to his caucus and saying, 'Enough is enough,'" Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee and a former campaign committee chairman, said at a breakfast hosted Monday byThe Christian Science Monitor.
The standoff has energized Tea Party organizations, which have made dismantling the health care law a top priority and have exercised substantial influence over House Republicans elected with their help since 2010.
"What's happening in Washington right now is largely a result of the grass roots speaking with one voice at the same time," said Dean Clancy, vice president of public policy for FreedomWorks, one of the leading Tea Party-affiliated groups. His group, which touts an e-mail list and social media following of more than 6 million, said it has driven more than 50,000 calls to Congress in recent weeks as part of the effort to defund the law.
"We are setting the agenda in Washington, and it feels good," he said.
If a shutdown does happen--and it looks increasingly likely it will - Van Hollen said he's not sure when it will end. "I think the scary thing about this period we're in is that there's no clear end point to a shutdown," he said.
The last time the government shut down was in 1995-96 for a combined period of 28 days during budget standoffs between the Clinton administration and a Republican Congress. Most Americans would not feel the effects of a short-term shutdown because most essential government operations would continue, but a longer-term shutdown could negatively affect the economy and federal workers and inconvenience Americans in need of government services.
Contributing: David Jackson, Gregory Korte and Fredreka Schouten.