House GOP leaders ramp up pressure on Senate to defund Obamacare

September 20, 2013
(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

House Republican leaders declared victory at a raucous news conference Friday after voting for a stopgap bill that would keep the government running and defund President Obama's signature health-care law, and immediately ramped up pressure on the Senate to take up the fight.

"The House has listened to the American people. Now it's time for the United States Senate to listen to them as well," said House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), to loud applause from his Republican colleagues.

By a 230 to 189 margin, the House on Friday morning passed a measure that would keep the federal government funded beyond Sept. 30 and would also defund Obama's signature health-care plan. The bill passed almost exclusively along party lines, with all but two Democrats voting against it. Only one Republican -- Rep. Scott Rigell (Va.) -- voted no.

The vote increases the possibility of a government shutdown at the end of the month, and came after House conservatives had balked at previous proposals GOP leaders had offered to keep the government running. The plans were scuttled because conservatives didn't feel they would have done enough to defund Obamacare.

House Republicans sought to play up their new-found unity Friday after being plagued by infighting over the budget. But the solidarity may be short-lived, with the Senate expected to remove the defund portion of the House bill and present House Republicans with a new dilemma.

Even as only the pair of conservative Democrats — Reps. Mike McIntyre (N.C.) and Jim Matheson (Utah) — voted for the bill Friday, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called it a "bipartisan effort."

"Today when we acted, it wasn't just a group of Republicans," he said.

But it's clear the bill will go nowhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is expected to strip out the provision to defund Obamacare, and send a new continuing resolution back to the House.

"Republicans are simply postponing for a few days the inevitable choice they must face: pass a clean bill to fund the government, or force a shutdown," Reid said.

A group of Senate conservatives led by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) have been trying to build support among their colleagues to defund Obamacare. But they found virtually no traction, even within GOP circles.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) sought to press vulnerable Democratic senators on Obamacare. He name-checked Sens. Kay Hagan (N.C.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Mark Begich (Alaska), all of whom face reelection in 2014. Cantor said he wants to know where they stand.

"Now it is up to Senate Democrats to show some responsibility and follow the House's lead," Cantor said.

Before the vote, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) criticized the measure. "They have no idea of the gravity of the situation, to quote the Music Man, of the trouble that is contained” in this bill, she said, adding, “It is a wolf in wolf’s clothing.”

If the Senate sends a new CR without the defund Obamacare provision back to the House as expected, Boehner will have just days to decide whether or not to hold a vote on it before the current government funding measure expires on Sept. 30.

Updated at 12:08 p.m.

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David Nakamura | September 20, 2013