Government shutdown looks likely as budget battle continues

Posted: Sep. 30, 2013 10:42 am Updated: Oct. 14, 2013 12:15 pm

Herald-Whig Senior Writer

WASHINGTON -- Members of Congress held out little hope they will avert a government shutdown Tuesday by passing a unified spending plan today.

The Republican-led House passed a continuing resolution during the weekend that would delay parts of the Affordable Care Act for a year. Members of the Democrat-led Senate plan to strip out the references to the health care law when they convene at midday. Barring a last-minute agreement, the lack of an agreed spending bill on the first day of the budget year will force the first government shutdown in 17 years.

"This is totally unnecessary," said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., during a Friday teleconference with reporters.

Durbin, the Senate's second highest ranking Democrat, said tens of thousands of government workers will face furloughs starting Tuesday if there is not an agreement. He said in Illinois the shutdown would force many of the people at the Rock Island Arsenal, Scott Air Force Base and other sites to stay home.

Durbin said the Republican caucus is "in total disarray," with Speaker John Boehner finding it difficult to placate his most conservative members.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said it is Obamacare that's to blame for the budget showdown "because it's a train wreck."

Blunt said he opposes the health care exchange system that goes into effect on Tuesday.

"I don't think they will ultimately work because they're simply too expensive, and I will keep fighting Obamacare because it's too costly and puts bureaucrats between patients and their doctors," Blunt said.

U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Peoria, voted with the Republican caucus for the plan to delay the health care law, but has called for a resolution to the shutdown crisis.

U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, R-Tarkio, chairman of the House Small Business Committee, said Obamacare has caused uncertainty for small businesses and cost the nation jobs.

If no compromise can be reached by midnight, Americans would soon see the impact of a government shutdown. National parks would close. Many low- to moderate-incomes borrowers and first-time homebuyers seeking government-backed mortgages could face delays.

About 800,000 federal workers would be forced off the job without pay. Some critical services such as patrolling the borders, inspecting meat and controlling air traffic would continue. Social Security benefits would be sent, and the Medicare and Medicaid health care programs for the elderly and poor would continue to pay doctors and hospitals.

Senate rejection would send the measure back to the House. A House GOP leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, said the House would rebuff the Senate's efforts to advance the short-term funding bill as a simple, "clean" measure without the anti-heath care reform provisions.

"You're going to shut down the government if you can't prevent millions of Americans from getting affordable care," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.

A leader of the tea party, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, insisted the blame rests with Senate Democrats.

"The House has twice now voted to keep the government open. And if we have a shutdown, it will only be because when the Senate comes back, (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid says, "I refuse even to talk,' " said Cruz, who led a 21-hour broadside against allowing the temporary funding bill to advance if stripped clean of a tea party-backed provision to derail Obamacare. The effort failed.

The battle started with a House vote to pass the short-term funding bill with a provision that would have eliminated the federal dollars needed to put Obama's health care overhaul into place. The Senate voted along party lines to strip that out and sent the measure back to the House.

The latest House bill, passed early Sunday by a near party-line vote of 231-192, sent back to the Senate two major changes: a one-year delay of key provisions of the health insurance law and repeal of a new tax on medical devices that partially funds it. The steps still go too far for the White House and its Democratic allies.

Senate rules often make it difficult to move quickly, but the chamber can act on the House's latest proposals by simply calling them up and killing them.

The Associated Press contributed this story.