WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday that Democrats won’t give in to efforts by Republicans backed by the tea party to choke off funding for the health-care law as a condition of funding the government past Sept. 30.
“The ransom demanded by Republicans is unworkable and unrealistic,” the Nevada Democrat said today on the Senate floor. “President Obama has been clear and I’ve been clear: Any bill that defunds Obama and his health care plan is dead on arrival in the Senate.”
Reid spoke as the Senate began considering a measure the House passed Sept. 20 that cuts off money for President Barack Obama’s health-care law and finances the federal government through mid-December. Democratic leaders in the Senate said they won’t pass a bill that takes money away from the 2010 law.
“A vast majority of Americans,including those who disapprove of the health-care law, want Congress to work to improve it, not to tear it down,” Reid said Monday.
With Republican Ted Cruz vowing to hold a filibuster, the Senate debate could drag out until late in the week. Senate leaders plan to send a bill without defunding the health law to the House over the weekend before spending authority expires.
“We’re not going to bow to tea party anarchists who deny the mere fact that Obamacare is the law,” Reid said. “This week, the United States Senate will act as quickly as Tea Party Republicans will allow. Once the Senate has acted, House Republicans will face a choice: Pass a clean continuing resolution or shut down the federal government.”
House Republican leaders could revise the bill and send it back to the Senate, with the health-care language restored, just as time runs out, raising the risk of a partial shutdown a week from now.
Two Senate Democratic committee leaders Monday said tea party-backed Republicans are playing a “high-stakes game of chicken” as U.S. spending and borrowing limits are about to expire.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana and Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray of Washington, both Democrats, said in a letter to colleagues today that House Speaker John Boehner and his Republican caucus are pushing the federal government closer to a shutdown in a fight over funding and the debt limit.
“Tea-party Republicans and Republican leadership are doing everything they can to pull us back into crisis mode, regardless of what that will mean for American workers and our economy,” the two senators wrote. “Dragging our workers and our economy through another round of brinkmanship and uncertainty is unacceptable.”
Federal offices have begun planning for the possibility of a shutdown.
“All of the agencies have plans set to be put in place in the event of a government shutdown,” Environmental Protection Agency head Gina McCarthy said Monday at a breakfast in Washington sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. If that happens “only a core group of officials” will remain on the job to be ready “in the event of an emergency.”
Also this week, the House will begin considering a measure that would suspend the U.S. borrowing limit for one year instead of raising it by a specific amount, and attach provisions including a delay in the health law for one year, according to a proposal distributed by party leaders to members and obtained by Bloomberg News.
Baucus and Murray outlined why Congress should keep a debt- limit bill free of efforts to reduce the nation’s budget deficit. That debate should “take place independent of raising the debt limit,” they said in the letter.
The two senators made the case that raising the debt limit doesn’t authorize new spending. Rather it lets the government pay debts already incurred.
The lawmakers said since 1960 the U.S. debt ceiling has been raised 78 times, and “contrary to Republican claims the debt limit has frequently been lifted independent of efforts to reduce the deficit or reform the budget process.”
Boehner, an Ohio Republican, last week said “every major deficit reduction plan over the last 30 years has been tied to the debt limit.”
Obama in a phone call to Boehner on Sept. 20 said he wouldn’t negotiate on the debt ceiling. The president urged Congress against a “self-inflicted wound,” according to the White House, while Boehner was “disappointed” by Obama’s stance against negotiations, the Ohio Republican’s office said.
The House bill to suspend the borrowing limit until Dec. 31, 2014, is forecast by party leaders to save at least $256 billion, and would include other party priorities such as approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, increasing means-testing for Medicare and cutting government regulations.
The debt-limit bill would encourage offshore energy production, energy production on federal lands and block EPA greenhouse-gas and coal-ash regulations.
Also being considered is a proposal to eliminate a provision in the Dodd-Frank Act that would end regulators’ authority to seize and dismantle financial firms if their failure could damage the stability of the U.S. financial system.
Another proposal would gut mandatory spending for the Consumer Financial Protection Board and revise the federal employees’ retirement system.
The House could vote as soon as this week on legislation to raise the debt limit. The Treasury Department anticipated it would need the limit raised in mid-October.