The federal government could shut down just after the stroke of midnight if congressional lawmakers cannot reach a last-minute agreement to pass a short-term budget deal. With just hours to go on Monday, it seemed more than likely that it would close for the first time in 17 years.
Following a day of finger pointing and political theater, the Republican-led House passed by a vote of 231-192 a bill late Saturday night that would keep the government open but delays funding for the Affordable Care Act for a year. It also permanently repeals a tax on medical devices that was projected to raise approximately $30 billion over the next 10 years to help cover the cost of expanded health-insurance coverage. They passed a separate bill to ensure that active-duty military service members continue to be paid.
The Senate, voting along party lines, roundly rejected the House bill by 54-46. Majority Leader Harry Reid is adamant that the House plan a "clean" bill without any provisions to defund or delay the health care law set to launch on Tuesday.
At a press conference following the vote, Reid said that he will not negotiate with House Republicans on that issue and that Democrats will not be bullied.
"They are closing down the government. I don't know what in the world is wrong with them, why they're fixated on this Obamacare. It is the law," said a perplexed Reid.
He added that it is particularly important that Democrats and the White House stand their ground because of the upcoming battle over raising the nation's debt ceiling.
"With a bully, you cannot let them slap you around because today they slap you five or six times, tomorrow it's seven or eight times. We are not going to be bullied," Reid said.
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer and Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin each called on House Speaker John Boehner to stop giving into to the hard-right conservatives in his caucus and lead.
"[He] is holding out the forlorn hope that by sending us new demands day in and day out, Democrats will capitulate. He's wrong and we won't," said Schumer.
Asked if a government shutdown was imminent, several members of the Congressional Black Caucus members said they believed it would, placing the blame firmly in the GOP's court.
“I’ve never seen our government more dysfunctional. Instead of uniting around the principle of complete obstructionism, and unanimously supporting legislation that damages the economic progress our country has made, House Republicans should focus on recommendations that will make this country better for everyone," said CBC Chairwoman Marcia Fudge. “This vote was a complete disappointment. It will hurt our communities and it is not good for our country. The American people deserve much better than this House majority continues to give.”
Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings held out hope that the business community will have some sway with the Republicans and convince them to avert a shutdown that could have a damaging effect on the financial markets.
"I think Republicans will be more concerned when the business community jumps into this because this can be catastrophic and they are supposed to be pro-business," he told BET.com. "If there's any saving grace, that's what it's going to be about. It's not going to be about any sympathy for their constituents, that's for sure."
If they cared about their constituents, Cummings added, Republicans would instead try to amend the health care law to make it more efficient and effective, an effort that he said would get cooperation from Democrats.
"But that's not what they're doing. They want to destroy it. This delay stuff is basically delay and kill," he said. "I think they've shown their true colors."
So, if the government does indeed shut down, who caves first — the White House or the House of Representatives?
According to Cummings, President Obama will stand firm and veto any legislation that ends his health care bill and his vow to negotiate over raising the debt ceiling.
"I think it sets a dangerous precedent if anytime the debt ceiling comes up you've got to give them something to get them to do their job," Cummings said.
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(Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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