US House approves spending bill, but shutdown looms
Lawmakers voted along party lines 230-189 in support of the so-called continuing resolution that funds government operations at current levels up to December 15, setting up a showdown with the Democratic-led Senate, which will consider the measure next week.
Many federal agencies and programs will shutter on October 1, day one of the coming fiscal year, if Congress and the president do not agree on a temporary budget measure.
But the Republican bill, in a nod to the party's more conservative wing, includes a provision that strips funding for the health care law, which its critics have nicknamed "Obamacare" and which the GOP has fought to repeal since its passage more than three years ago.
"Let's defund this law now, and protect the American people from the calamity that we know this law will create," number two House Republican Eric Cantor told members in final debate before the vote.
Inclusion of the controversial provision, however, virtually assures that the bill will not become law, and sends the nation careening toward a possible shutdown.
Obama looked beyond the shutdown threat to the next big budget battle just two weeks later -- the need to raise the debt ceiling, which Republicans have also vowed to try and block unless the health care law can be delayed by a year.
The president, visiting a car plant in Missouri, accused Republicans of risking a "tailspin" for the still recovering US economy by putting partisan zeal ahead of the good of the nation.
"If we don't raise the debt ceiling -- we are deadbeats," Obama warned in a fiery speech, saying House Republican tactics were "the height of irresponsibility."
"This is the United States of America. We are not a banana republic, this is not a deadbeat nation. We don't run out on our tab."
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised defeat of the measure in the his chamber, saying Republicans faced a stark choice: "pass a clean bill to fund the government, or force a shutdown."
He said Democrats stand "ready to work with reasonable people who want to improve" the Affordable Care Act. "But Republican attempts to take an entire law hostage simply to appease the Tea Party anarchists are outrageous, irresponsible and futile," Reid added.
All but one Republican voted for the measure, which also earned the support of two Democrats from relatively conservative districts.
Speaker John Boehner, savaged by Democrats who accuse him of caving in to extremists in his caucus, insisted the vote reflected Americans' frustration with potential ill effects of the health care law.
"Our message to the United States Senate is real simple: the American people don't want the government shut down, and they don't want Obamacare," he said.
The Senate will likely approve an amended resolution with no Obamacare provision, however, putting the House leadership under intense pressure to do the same -- or revisit the health care debate and risk a potentially devastating government shutdown after September 30.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi warned that members ought to "get our House in order" and avoid risking another fiscal crisis.
"We are not here to expand government, but we are not here to eliminate government," she said.
"What is brought to the floor here today is, without a doubt, a measure designed to shut down government. It could have no other intent."
If no solution to this row is found by October 1, large parts of the US government will be forced to close down, and Obama warned even soldiers serving abroad could see their paychecks stopped.
The US government is expected to run out of money by around the middle of next month -- a scenario that could send stock markets tumbling and send shockwaves through the global economy, unless Congress raises the limit on government borrowing.
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