WASHINGTON (AP) – With the threatened government shutdown imminent, House Republicans scaled back their demands to delay the nation’s health care law Monday night as the price for essential federal funding, but President Barack Obama and Democrats rejected the proposals as quickly as they were made.
“We’re at the brink,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.
On a long day and night in the Capitol, the Senate torpedoed one GOP attempt to tie government financing to changes in “Obamacare.” House Republicans countered with a second despite unmistakable signs their unity was fraying – and Senate Democrats stood by to reject it, as well.
The stock market dropped on fears that political gridlock between the White House and a tea party-heavy Republican Party would prevail, though analysts suggested significant damage to the national economy was unlikely unless a shutdown lasted more than a few days.
Still, a shutdown would send hundreds of thousands of workers home and inconvenience millions of people who rely on federal services or are drawn to the nation’s parks and other attractions. Some critical parts of the government – from the military to air traffic controllers – would remain open.
As lawmakers squabbled, President Barack Obama spoke bluntly about House Republicans. “You don’t get to extract a ransom for doing your job, for doing what you’re supposed to be doing anyway, or just because there’s a law there that you don’t like,” he said. Speaking of the health care law that undergoes a major expansion on Tuesday, he said emphatically, “That funding is already in place. You can’t shut it down.”
House Speaker John Boehner responded a few hours later on the House floor. “The American people don’t want a shutdown and neither do I,” he said. Yet, he added, the new health care law “is having a devastating impact. ... Something has to be done.”
For all the Republican defiance, it appeared that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and fellow Democrats had the upper hand in the fast-approaching end game, and that Republicans would soon have to decide whether to allow the government to remain open – or come away empty-handed from a bruising struggle with Obama.
Some Republicans balked, moderates and conservatives alike.
Rep. Phil Gingrey of Georgia said it felt as if Republicans were retreating, given their diminishing demands, and Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia said there was not unanimity when the rank and file met to discuss a next move.
Yet for the first time since the showdown began more than a week ago, there was also public dissent from the Republican strategy that has been carried out at the insistence of lawmakers working in tandem with GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
Rep. Charles Dent, R-Pa., said he was willing to vote for standalone legislation that would keep the government running and contained no health care-related provisions. “I would be supportive of it, and I believe the votes are there in the House to pass it at that point,” the fifth-term congressman said.
Other Republicans sought to blame Democrats for any shutdown, but Dent conceded that Republicans would bear the blame, whether or not they deserved it.