House votes to defund health care law in bill to finance government

William Douglas

The House of Representatives approved a contentious $986 billion short-term measure Friday to keep the federal government running through mid-December and defund the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s legacy accomplishment.

A victory for conservative House Republicans against some party elders, the 230-189 vote on a continuing resolution to fund the government temporarily also stripped funding for the health care law and retained the automatic domestic and military budget cuts known as sequestration. It was the first move in a complicated political chess match that could lead to lead to a government shutdown Oct. 1.

“The House has listened to the American people,” House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said to the cheers of fellow Republicans. “Now it’s time for the United States Senate to listen to them as well.”

Obama, speaking at an economic event at a Ford plant in Liberty, Mo., accused House Republicans of threatening to put the nation’s economy into “a tailspin” by using the continuing resolution and the pending debate on whether to raise the nation’s debt ceiling to kill off the health care law.

“They want to repeal all that, and they’re saying, ‘We’re going to hold our breath and (if) you don’t repeal it’ – which I’ve already said I’m not going to do – ‘we’re going to send the economy into default,’ ” the president said. “I’m not going to allow them to inflict economic pain on millions of our own people just so they can make an ideological point.”

House Democrats denounced Friday’s vote, calling it bad political theater. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the Republican-sponsored bill a “wolf in wolf’s clothing.” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Republicans had displayed a “destructive obsession” with Obamacare by linking it to the continuing resolution.

Only two Democrats – Reps. Mike McIntyre of North Carolina and Jim Matheson of Utah – voted for the bill. One Republican, Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia, voted against it.

At a post-vote rally, Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., declared that the pressure is now on the Democratic-controlled Senate, which is expected to take up the continuing resolution next week. Cantor dared Senate Democrats in Republican-leaning states to join them in scuttling the health care law.

“I want to know where Sen. Pryor stands on protecting the middle class from the consequences of this horrific law,” Cantor said, referring to Arkansas Democrat Mark Pryor. “How about Kay Hagan in North Carolina? Does she understand the consequences that Obamacare is having in her state?”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., proclaimed the effort to defund Obamacare as “dead” in his chamber and called Friday’s House vote the work of “tea party anarchists.”

“Sadly, Republicans appear willing to put the nation’s economic recovery at risk to make an ideological point,” Reid said Friday.

The likelihood of the House measure surviving the Senate intact is slim. In addition to strong Democratic opposition, Republicans such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona have said that linking defunding of Obamacare to funding the federal government won’t succeed in the upper chamber. Still, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah have vowed to push the House measure.

Cruz said Thursday, “I will do everything and anything possible to defund Obamacare,” including a Senate filibuster. That was something of a turnaround for Cruz, a champion of the effort who earlier in the week had said the measure had little chance in the Senate but was vigorously upbraided by several House Republicans for doing so.

Cruz’s latest promise gave conservative House members such as Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., hope.

“It is important for folks like myself who ran on this issue and who said they would do everything they could to stop Obamacare,” Huelskamp said. “I think it’s critical for Republicans to say, ‘Hey, this is what we’re about. We’re following through on what we told the American people we’d do in November 2010.’ Now, it took three years to get to that point in time.”

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By William Douglas
McClatchy Washington Bureau