Countdown to Shutdown: 2 Days

Photograph by Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, insists that the House is trying to keep the federal government open, not shutting it down. Photo by Scott Applewhite / Associated Press

Updated at 9:20, 10:40 am and 3:07 pm EDT

They say it’s not about a shutdown.

They say it’s about fixing, if not defunding, what they call “Obama-care.”

Yet the Republican-run House’s action early this morning, almost strictly along party lines, will have the effect of initiating a shutdown of non-essential government services on Oct. 1, as the bill approved after midnight is a non-starter in the Senate — and even if the Senate did accept it, the White House has warned that President Barack Obama would veto it.

Ironically, though, the one thing that won’t shut down in either event is the president’s signature health-care law, largely financed with mandatory government spending, with the insurance exchanges of the Affordable Care Act opening for enrollment to those seeking coverage on Oct. 1.

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They had a lot to talk about on the talk shows this morning.

Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who talked for 20 hours on the Senate floor last week, led the Sunday lineup on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.”

Cruz said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid should call the Senate into session today to consider the latest House proposal.

“There’s no reason the Senate should be home on vacation,” Cruz said.

He said he hopes Reid is the one who “backs away from that ledge.”

Bloomberg’s Kathleen Hunter reports that the Senate probably won’t come back into session before its scheduled return tomorrow afternoon, on the final day for any shutdown-averting deal, according to a Senate Democratic aide speaking on condition of anonymity.

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“Breathtaking arrogance” — House Speaker John Boehner’s words for the failure of the Senate to return for a Sunday session, with parts of two days left to avert a government shutdown.

“ The House worked late into the night Saturday to prevent a government shutdown, and the Senate now must move quickly, today, to do the same,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement issued by his office. “If the Senate stalls until Monday afternoon instead of working today, it would be an act of breathtaking arrogance by the Senate Democratic leadership.  They will be deliberately bringing the nation to the brink of a government shutdown.”

House Republicans were planning a late-afternoon rally on the steps outside the Senate at the Capitol to demonstrate their readiness to deal and the Senate’s absence — the only problem being that the Senate’s leaders already had dismissed the House’s weekend budget strategy as unacceptable.

It was sunny and in the low-70s in Washington, though, a nice afternoon for fire-breathing.

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Mostly, we expected them all to be talking today and tomorrow about who’s to blame for the shutdown triggered at midnight tomorrow if there is no resolution to this standoff with just two days left.

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The House’s Republicans were out in force defending their move.

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The Republican-led House voted to attach a one-year delay of Obama-care to a must-pass spending bill, dramatically raising the likelihood of a partial government shutdown Oct. 1, as Bloomberg’s Roxana Tiron, Richard Rubin and Heidi Przybyla reported early this morning.

“The 231-192 vote early this morning, mostly along party lines, puts the House on a collision course with Senate Democrats and Obama, who say they won’t accept Republicans’ conditions for keeping the government operating. It is at least the fourth time in the past three years that lawmakers have taken the U.S. to the brink of a fiscal crisis.”

“The vote marks a sharp turn for Boehner and other Republican leaders, who earlier resisted taking a hard line on Obama’s 2010 health-care law until they gave in to the demands of a few dozen Tea Party-backed lawmakers.

The focus now returns to the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, calls the Republicans’ latest plan to gut the health-care law “pointless” and the Republicans behind it legislative “anarchists.”

“A last-minute deal before Oct. 1 is still achievable,’ Tiron, Rubin and Przybyla report, “though time is running out. One possible move is for both chambers to pass a short-term funding measure — for a few days to a week — to keep the government open and leave more time for debate. The House plan would extend government funding through Dec. 15, a month longer than a plan passed by the Senate.”

Attempting to deflect blame for a shutdown, House Republicans are set to pass a separate bill ensuring that troops, as well as some civilians and contractors working for the military, are paid if the government shuts down.

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The final chance to avert a shutdown could come tomorrow evening, our reporters note, if the Senate turns down the latest House plan, asDemocrats promise to do.

At that point, Boehner would have four main choices — two of which avert a shutdown. He could pass the Senate bill with mostly Democratic votes or attempt a short-term funding extension to keep the government open past Oct. 1, when fiscal year 2014 begins.

The latest House bill has some concessions from Republicans who have criticized the requirements the health-care law imposes on insurers. It would leave intact most of the law already in effect, such as requirements insurance companies cover people with pre-existing conditions and that family plans cover children up to age 26. The latest bill would allow insurers to deny abortion coverage based on religious or moral objections.

The House measure would delay a requirement for people to purchase coverage or face a penalty, and postpone the creation of marketplaces — which are supposed to start functioning Oct. 1 — where people are to shop for coverage from private insurers. Further, it would repeal the 2.3 percent medical device tax, which would increase deficits by about $29billion during the next decade.

Tiron, Rubin and Przybyla report that the House Republican leadership doesn’t expect to pass a clean spending bill or have enough Republicans who would want to do that, according to a leadership aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss party strategy. The House probably will amend the bill one more time. A likely option would eliminate the government’s contribution to the health insurance of members of Congress and their staff, as a way of testing Democrats’ willingness to make any change to the health law, the aide said.

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Former President Bill Clinton, whose Democratic administration was the last to experience a partial government shutdown in 1996, says he wouldn’t negotiate with Republicans on the eve of another shutdown.

“I think there are times when you have to call people’s bluff,” Clinton said in an interview with ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” in which he said Republican tactics to undermine the 2010 health-care law seem “almost spiteful.”

He recalled some “extremely minor” negotiations during his administration’s partial closures and said that, in this case, there isn’t an opportunity for real talks.

“The current price of stopping it is higher than the price of letting the Republicans do it and taking their medicine,” he said. “If they’re going to change the way the Constitution works and fundamentally alter the character of our country and damage the future of a lot of kids, you just have to say no.”

– With Bloomberg’s Jesse Hamilton reporting.

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