WASHINGTON — The U.S. House is planning to vote Friday on a federal budget stopgap that could lead to a partial government shutdown at the end of the month because it defunds the Affordable Care Act.
The “Obamacare” defunding amendment was sponsored by Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson. The rest of the Republicans in the Louisiana delegation are planning to support the proposal.
The White House already issued a veto threat of the bill because it would remove health care funds. President Barack Obama’s special assistant, Amy Brundage, said Thursday that legislatively delaying or defunding the Affordable Care Act is a “non-starter.”
The Senate’s Democratic leadership is planning to strip out the language and send the legislation back to the House. If that occurs and the House Republicans stand firm, as they claim they will, then the federal government likely will shut down beginning Oct. 1.
A government shutdown would close most federal government offices, museums and parks. But “critical services” would continue. In the past those services have included air traffic controllers, border protection, national security and maintenance of the power grid.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who supports Obamacare, on Thursday criticized the Republican approach and said the tea party wing is taking over and holding the economy hostage.
Republican Reps. Scalise, Bill Cassidy, of Baton Rouge, and John Fleming, of Minden, have signed letters asking the GOP House leadership not to support any spending bill unless the Affordable Care Act health care law loses its appropriations. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., signed a similar letter.
But Cassidy said Thursday he is not ready to speculate on how he will vote if the Senate strips out the defunding Obamacare language.
“I would like to see how it plays,” Cassidy said. “What seems apparent today may not be the case next week.”
Cassidy and other Republicans argue that Obama and Democrats would be to blame for a government shutdown.
But Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, who is stepping down from Congress next week, expressed concerns about “ultraconservatives … playing games.”
“It’s just a game so they can say they voted to defund (Obamacare),” Alexander said, adding that the reality is the Senate and Obama will never support the defunding.
Scalise disagreed, saying that Obama delayed some of the Affordable Care mandates.
“For weeks, productive conversations have been underway as we work to use every legislative tool available to free hard-working Americans from President Obama’s train-wreck of a health care law,” Scalise said in a prepared statement. “Our objective has always been to achieve victory without a government shutdown, and House Republicans will continue fighting for the American people as we work to delay and defund Obamacare.”
White House Office and Management and Budget Director Sylvia Burwell said Thursday in an interview that a government shutdown can be avoided.
“There is still time,” Burwell said. “This is not something we desire, want or think should happen.”
If a shutdown does occur, most federal employees would be furloughed, active military personnel would have their pay cut off, funding for federal loans and research would cease, and much more, according to the White House.
Burwell’s deputy director, Brian Deese, said Republicans should avoid playing chicken on Obamacare and the upcoming need next month to raise the federal debt ceiling. “This is an important principle that we cannot hold our government and our economy hostage to ideological agendas,” Deese said.
Vitter, meanwhile, is still stalling most action in the Senate in order to get a vote on his proposal to require that members of Congress, their staffs and the president have to acquire health insurance through exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act without receiving federal employee subsidies.