With nothing less than the operation of government on the line, the battle in Congress over ObamaCare is shaping into a test of wills as lawmakers face a midnight deadline to resolve their differences or turn out the lights.
For the moment, the ball is in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s court. The House, early Sunday morning, approved a bill that would fund the government past Monday while delaying ObamaCare by a year. It would also repeal a widely unpopular medical device tax.
“It’s time for the Senate to listen to the American people, just like the House has listened to the American people,” House Speaker John Boehner said Monday morning.
But Reid has outright stated he will not accept any measures that undermine the health care law as part of the budget bill. Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson said Sunday that Reid, as he vowed, will reject this bill.
“The Senate will do exactly what we said we would do and reject these measures,” he said. “At that point, Republicans will be faced with the same choice they have always faced: put the Senate’s clean funding bill on the floor and let it pass with bipartisan votes, or force a Republican government shutdown.”
The shutdown showdown effectively pits Reid against Boehner. The two leaders will face off with their final set of chess moves in a very narrow time frame — the Senate is set to return at 2 p.m. ET, and lawmakers have until midnight to strike a deal.
All indications are that Reid will simply kill the Republican amendments and kick back a “clean” budget bill to the House. The clock ticking, it will then be Boehner’s move once again.
On Sunday, House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy indicated his caucus might still have a few more plays left.
“We have other options for the Senate to look at,” he told “Fox News Sunday.”
There are a few other ideas floating around the Hill for targeting ObamaCare without going so far as to defund it — which is what the first version of the House Republicans’ bill did.
But at this stage, a shutdown is highly possible, and congressional leaders are hard at work trying to assign blame.
Democrats have already labeled this a “Republican government shutdown.” But Republicans on Sunday hammered Reid and his colleagues for not coming back to work immediately after the House passed a bill Sunday morning.
“O Senate, where art thou,” said Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn, riffing on the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou.”
Blackburn made her comments along with other members of the House Republican Conference at an informal press conference on the steps of Capitol Hill.
“That the senators are not here … is all that everyone needs to know,” said Arkansas Republican Rep. Tim Griffin. “Democrats want to shut down the government. … That’s a scorched earth policy.”
Griffin and others tried to recast the blame for a possible shutdown on Democrats who have argued Republicans’ insistence on tying a spending bill to ObamaCare is intended to force a shutdown.
“Today we see where the Senate doors are shut,” said conference Chairwoman and Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. “Harry Reid says that a shutdown is inevitable.”
But even if the Senate somehow approved the House bill, the White House has stated that President Obama would veto it.