WASHINGTON – With Washington barreling toward a government shutdown, a deadlocked Congress entered the final weekend of the fiscal year with no clear ideas of how to avoid furloughs for more than 800,000 federal workers. Millions more could be left without paychecks.
The Senate on Friday approved a stopgap government funding bill and promptly departed, leaving all of the pressure to find a solution on House Republican leaders.
President Barack Obama weighed in, sternly lecturing GOP leaders that the easiest path forward was to approve the Senates bill, which includes money for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the presidents prized legislation achievement, which he signed into law in 2010. But a far-right bloc of House and Senate Republicans banded together to leave House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, virtually powerless to act.
My message to Congress is this: Do not shut down the government. Do not shut down the economy. Pass a budget on time, Obama said in the White House press briefing room.
Boehners leadership team offered no public comment and remained out of sight most of Friday, hunkering down for another weekend on the brink.
For Boehner, this is the latest in a series of unstable moments that have become the hallmark of his three-year run as speaker.
With a stroke-of-midnight deadline on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Democrats would reject any conservative add-ons that Boehner might attach to the funding bill.
That would further delay passage, and given the staunch opposition from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who has said that he will make no concession to help move the process along, the slow-moving Senate would require up to a week to approve something even if Reid were amenable to the changes.
That sets the stage for a shutdown Tuesday.
Weve passed the only bill that can avert a government shutdown Monday night. I said this on the floor, I say it again: This is it, time is gone, Reid said Friday after the midday passage of the funding bill on a party-line vote.
Before that final roll call, Cruzs attempt to filibuster the legislation was throttled in a bipartisan 79-to-19 vote, but the first-year senator drew support from nearly half the rank-and-file Republicans in defiance of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Cruz confirmed reports that he has been huddling with House conservatives to help plot their strategy to force Boehners hand on the health-care law.
I am confident if the House listens to the people, as it did last week, that it will continue to step forward and respond to the suffering that is coming from Obamacare, Cruz told reporters Friday, saying he has had numerous conversations with House Republicans.
Those Republicans upended a strategy crafted by Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., to first advance legislation related to the federal borrowing limit, including more demands to delay the health-care law, then allow government funding to be approved.
That plan required the GOP leaders to draw all votes from their side of the aisle – 217 of the 232 Republicans – and instead the Cruz-led contingent hold more than enough votes to sabotage any moves by Boehner and Cantor. Those House Republicans late Friday offered their version of what they want attached to the funding resolution and sent back to the Senate: an amendment delaying until 2015 implementation of all the health laws taxes, mandates and benefits as well as its provisions aimed at squeezing savings from Medicare.
A simple and reasonable way to ensure fairness for all is to provide every American the same one-year Obamacare delay that President Barack Obama provided for businesses and others, Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., the bills author, said in a written statement.
He has more than 60 co-sponsors.
While the health-care law has had some provisions delayed amid a wobbly rollout, Obama and Democrats oppose any effort to strip funding or delay implementation of the law as it begins a critical new period next week. The president warned that demands to delay the Affordable Care Acts implementation were even more reckless in connection with the raising debt limit, because the Treasury will run out of maneuvers to continue borrowing Oct. 17 and will head toward a first-of-its-kind default on the nearly $17 trillion debt.