House conservatives hold firm as U.S. government shutdown looms


* Next move comes in the Republican-controlled House

* Conservatives vow to continue "Obamacare" delay push

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON, Sept 28 (Reuters) - With conservative HouseRepublicans promising not to back down on an emergency spendingbill in a push to defund President Barack Obama's healthcarereform law, the U.S. government edged closer on Saturday to itsfirst shutdown since 1996.

Although a last-minute temporary solution including apossible 10-day extension of government funding had been raisedon Friday, there were no signs Democrats and Republicans couldreach a deal before the Oct. 1 deadline.

No negotiations appeared to be underway between the twosides.

The Senate, as expected, passed on Friday a straight-forwardemergency-funding measure to keep the government running throughNov. 15, after stripping out Republican language to end fundingfor the 2010 healthcare law known as Obamacare.

Republicans who control the House of Representatives mustnow decide how to respond, a move that could come as early asSaturday.

Representative Tom Graves of Georgia announced on Fridaythat he and 61 of his colleagues would insist on a one-yeardelay of "Obamacare," which is set to launch on October 1, as acondition of funding the government and averting a shutdown.

The push to make a stand on the healthcare restructuring,which Republicans view as a massive government intrusion thatwill cause premiums to skyrocket, has been bolstered by theconservative, anti-Washington Tea Party wing of the party.

Rejection of the funding measure would throw the ball backto the Democratic-controlled Senate, perhaps as late as Sundayor early Monday, with little time remaining to continue thepolitical ping-pong.

All indications are that Republicans will tack on a newmeasure to that bill, which likely would be rejected by theSenate and make a shutdown all the more likely.

If Congress does not act before midnight on Monday, thegovernment's legal authority to spend money for routineactivities runs out.

Spending for functions considered essential, related tonational security or public safety, would continue along withbenefit programs such as Medicare health insurance and SocialSecurity retirement benefits for seniors.

But hundreds of thousands of civilian federal employees-from people who process forms and handle regulatory proceedingsto workers at national parks and museums in Washington - wouldbe furloughed.

Obama, in his regular Saturday address, accused Republicansof "appeasing an extreme faction of their party" bent oncreating "a crisis that will hurt people for the sole purpose ofadvancing their ideological agenda."

The Republican response, delivered by Representative CathyMcMorris Rodgers, focused not on a possible shutdown but on thenext fight, over raising the government's borrowing authority,which runs out in mid-October.

Republicans are likely to demand concessions-including thescuttling of "Obamacare" in exchange for raising the debtceiling as well. While failure to do so could lead to amarket-rattling default by the government, McMorris Rodgersdefended the Republican tactic.

"By an overwhelming margin, Americans believe any debtceiling increase should be coupled with solutions that helpsolve our debt and grow our economy," she said.

While diehard conservative Republicans in the House remaineddetermined in their pursuit to kill "Obamacare," other membersof the divided Republican caucus were despairing, privately andpublicly.

Representative Shelley Moore Capito, a seven-term WestVirginia Republican, told Reuters she had "no idea what's goingto happen."

Capito said, "I gave up trying to make predictions a fewyears ago" after scores of lawmakers backed by the Tea Partymovement helped Republicans win back the House from Obama'sDemocrats.

"There's a lot of exasperation by those of us who want tomove the ball forward and in a rational way," Capito said. "Byrational, I mean trying to achieve the achievable."

"There is a lot of frustration because there is absolutelyno way to please certain members. That's frustrating to all ofus become it becomes an internal battle. Some of us feel we arein a circular firing squad," Capito said.

The last government shutdown ran from Dec. 16, 1995 to Jan.6, 1996 and was the product of a budget battle betweenDemocratic President Bill Clinton and Republicans, led bythen-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

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