Washington // The US Senate yesterday swiftly rejected a House measure to delay president Barack Obama’s health care law as part of a federal funding bill, pushing the government closer to a shutdown.
The 54-46 vote in the Democrat-led Senate left Congress less than 10 hours to resolve a bitter impasse over a temporary spending bill before many federal agencies shut their doors, forcing hundreds of thousands of federal employees to stay home.
The senators voted along party lines, with the Democratic Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, vowing no compromise with the Republican-controlled lower house, which passed the bill to delay the new health care law for a year and repeal a tax on medical devices that helps pay for the programme.
“We are not changing Obamacare,” said Mr Reid. “I have a very simple message to John Boehner: let the House vote. Stop trying to force a government shutdown.”
Legislators had until midnight to pass a stopgap budget measure, otherwise the government will shut down and hit the economy.
Mr Obama had warned a freeze in non-essential federal spending could have catastrophic effects on a shaky economic recovery and cost thousands of jobs.
Ironically, the issue at the core of the dispute, implementation of key parts of “Obamacare”, will begin today on schedule, shutdown or not.
As legislators squabbled, Mr Obama urged them instead to “act responsibly and do what’s right for the American people”.
At the White House, he said he was willing to discuss long-term budget issues with members of Congress and he expected to do soon.
But, he added: “The only way to do that is for everybody to sit down in good faith without threatening to harm women and veterans and children with a government shutdown.”
Anticipating their legislation would be rejected, House Republican leaders met in Mr Boehner’s office to plan their next move.
Officials said that even though time was running short, they expected at least one more attempt to squeeze a concession from the White House, probably a demand to force a one-year delay in the requirement for individuals to purchase health coverage or face financial penalties.
* Agence France-Presse and Associated Press