Washington marched relentlessly toward its first federal shutdown in 17 years Sunday after House Speaker John A. Boehner agreed to conservative demands to use a government-funding bill to press an attack on President Obama’s 2010 health-care law.
Early Sunday morning, the House was poised to approve a bill to keep the government open past midnight Monday. But under pressure from Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and other GOP hard-liners, the House amended the bill to include a one-year delay of the health law’s mandates, taxes and benefits — guaranteeing a stalemate with the Democratic Senate. The vote was 231 to 192.
As the House convened for the rare Saturday session, senior Republicans seemed to recognize the potential consequences of their actions. For now, Boehner’s decision to appease his right wing keeps an uneasy peace in his fractious caucus. But it bodes ill for his ability to work with Democrats to keep the government open, restore funding for federal agencies if a shutdown occurs or — in a few weeks — raise the federal debt limit to avoid a first-ever default on the national debt.
Leaders of both parties agree that a government shutdown would be bad for the economy and that a default would be potentially catastrophic.
In addition to delaying implementation of the law, the amendment would weaken its requirement that insurance policies fully cover contraception and would instead allow businesses to decide whether to offer birth-control coverage to their employees.
For now, at least, Boehner, Cantor and other top lieutenants have ruled out the prospect of seeking out Democratic votes to help them pass a simple funding bill and keep the government open, their advisers said. But as Republicans prepared to vote late Saturday, some lawmakers acknowledged that they had no idea what would happen if the Senate follows through on its threat to reject their latest offering.
“It comes back to us, I guess,” said Rep. Phil Gingrey (Ga.), one of the more conservative Republicans and a candidate for Senate in 2014. “We really didn’t talk about exactly what the plan would be then.”
This is what will happen with a government shutdown.