The House on Friday approved a bill to temporarily fund the government that would strip funding for the 2010 federal health care law known as Obamacare, a move that will set up a showdown with the Senate next week that could result in a government shutdown.
The bill, which Democrats in the Senate plan to reject in its current form, would set spending levels at $986.3 billion through Dec. 15. Congress must pass a bill to set federal funding levels, known as a continuing resolution (CR) by Oct. 1, or the government will partially close. House Republicans see the mandatory deadline as a final opportunity to cripple the 3-year-old health care law.
The bill passed largely along party lines. Only two Democrats, Reps. Jim Matheson of Utah and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, voted for the CR.
While conservatives in the House see the passage of the bill as a victory, the celebration will be short-lived. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid intends to strip out the part of the bill that defunds the health care law when the upper chamber takes up the measure next week. In a statement Thursday, President Barack Obama vowed to veto any CR that does not include funding for the law.
The move by House Republicans comes amid a fierce internal party battle over how to tackle the Affordable Care, a law that was found constitutional by the Supreme Court in 2012. For months, Republican leaders resisted calls from conservative members in the House and Senate to use the CR as a vehicle to defund the law, but they relented this week by announcing that the bill sent to the Senate would not include funding for the law. They preferred, instead, to seek a delay of the law's individual mandate to purchase health insurance by tying it to a vote to raise the federal government's borrowing limit.
In the Senate, four Republicans, Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee of Utah, have led an aggressive effort to defund the health care law. They have enraged other Republicans by saying publicly that those who vote for government spending measures that include funding for Obamacare effectively support the Democratic health care law.
Anger within the GOP reached a tipping point this week when Cruz acknowledged that it would likely fail in the Senate after House leaders announced they would move forward with the ill-fated plan.
"Harry Reid will no doubt try to strip the defund language from the continuing resolution," Cruz said Wednesday. "And right now, he likely has the votes to do so."
The remark sparked an outpouring of fury from Republicans who accused him of giving up on the fight before the bill reached the Senate. (The anger seemed misplaced, as Cruz has acknowledged for months that Republicans do not have enough votes in the Senate to defund Obamacare.)
On Thursday, Cruz responded by suggesting that he may stage a traditional filibuster to block a Senate spending bill, saying that he would “do everything necessary and anything possible to defund Obamacare.”
Next week, he may have his chance. With the passage of the House bill on Friday, the battle over the Affordable Care Act and government spending will move to the Senate, where lawmakers will have only seven days to find a compromise with the House to avoid a shutdown.