U.S. House moves federal government closer to shutdown

Reuters

* Republicans continue to push for "Obamacare" delay

* Senate expected to reject loaded-up funding bill

* Obama threatens veto

By Thomas Ferraro and Caren Bohan

WASHINGTON, Sept 28 (Reuters) - In a decision that couldmake a U.S. government shutdown hard to avoid on Tuesday, theHouse of Representatives on Saturday prepared to reject anemergency spending bill approved by the Senate and push insteadto delay President Barack Obama's healthcare reform law.

The vote by the Republican-controlled House was set to beginSaturday night. But there was little doubt about the outcomeamong Republicans, who cheered and chanted jubilantly in ameeting earlier Saturday after choosing their course of action.

Democrats were grim. "The government is going to shut down,"said Representative Jim Moran of Virginia. "The only questionnow is for how long."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, also a Democrat, said theSenate, which is not scheduled to meet until 2 p.m. EDT onMonday (1800 GMT), would not accept any funding measure aimed atderailing the 2010 healthcare restructuring known as Obamacare.

And Obama threatened on Saturday to veto any bill thatcontained such a measure.

The high-stakes maneuvering between Democrats andRepublicans is likely to continue through much of Monday, withlittle time remaining before government funding runs out.

The impasse is the culmination of more than three years offailed conservative efforts to repeal "Obamacare," a healthinsurance program aimed at extending coverage to millions ofthose without coverage.

Republicans argue that "Obamacare, which is set to launch onOct. 1, is a massive and unnecessary government intrusion intomedicine that will cause premiums to skyrocket and damage theeconomy.

They have attached a provision to delay the program to a"must-pass" bill that would continue funding the government whenthe fiscal year ends at midnight on Monday.

Failure to pass the bill would close down much of thegovernment for the first time since 1996. More than a millionfederal employees would be furloughed from their jobs, with theimpact depending on how long a shutdown lasted.

The current timetable could leave House Speaker John Boehnerwith the most difficult decision of his career: whether toapprove a straight-forward spending bill passed on Friday by theSenate or allow the government shutdown to begin.

A shutdown could be averted, however, if 17 of the 233 HouseRepublicans break from their party and vote with the Democrats.

MEDICAL DEVICE TAX

Neither side wants to be the last to cast the final votethat would lead to a shutdown, a concern that has turned thefunding measure into a hot potato being tossed between the twochambers.

While polls consistently show the American public is tiredof political showdowns and opposed to a shutdown, Houseconservatives were happy about the coming fight.

"This is a win-win all the way around," said ArizonaRepresentative Matt Salmon, who described the mood ofRepublicans as "ecstatic."

Republicans said they would also approve a bill repealing atax on medical devices that helps fund the healthcare law to thetune of about $30 billion. That provision, sought with heavylobbying by the medical device industry, has been supported inthe past by some Democratic senators.

Republicans said they would separately approve a bill toensure members of the U.S. military continued to be paid ifgovernment funding was cut off. If Democrats vote against thatbill, Republicans are likely to accuse them of hurting U.S.troops.

In a government shutdown, spending for functions consideredessential, related to national security or public safety, wouldcontinue along with benefit programs such as Medicare healthinsurance and Social Security retirement benefits for seniors.

But civilian federal employees - from people who processforms and handle regulatory proceedings to workers at nationalparks and museums in Washington - would be temporarily out ofwork.

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.

Republicans suffered a public backlash when votersre-elected Clinton in a landslide the following November, alesson never forgotten by senior Republicans, including Boehner.

This time, Boehner tried to avoid a showdown but wasoverruled by his rebellious caucus, largely influenced since the2010 election by newcomers endorsed by the conservative TeaParty movement.

With Boehner effectively sidelined, rank-and-fileRepublicans boasted of their unity. Members chanted "vote, vote,vote, vote," in their closed-door meeting, they reported later.

Afterward, Democratic Representative Louise Slaughter of NewYork, took to the House floor to accuse Republicans of throwinga "temper tantrum" about "Obamacare" under pressure from "TeaParty extremists."

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