x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Threat to shut down US government puts heat on Republicans

Failure to pass a short-term funding bill would mean the first partial government shutdown in almost 20 years.

WASHINGTON // Divided Republicans convened on Saturday in the House of Representatives in hopes of preventing a federal government shutdown, but remain under pressure from the party’s conservative wing to try to derail Barack Obama’s healthcare law.

The session comes after the Senate on Friday sent back to the House legislation to keep the government’s doors open until November 15, but only after Democrats stripped from the bill a provision to defund the healthcare law, frequently referred to as Obamacare, that aims to extend insurance coverage to millions.

Congress faces a midnight deadline on Monday. Failure to pass a short-term funding bill by then would mean the first partial government shutdown in almost 20 years. A single, agreed-upon version must be approved by both houses of Congress and signed by the US president by Tuesday.

The Senate’s 54-44 vote was strictly along party lines in favour of the bill, which would prevent a shutdown of non-essential government services.

That tally followed a 79-19 vote to cut off an effort by the Republican senator Ted Cruz to speak all night and through morning in favour of using the spending bill to kill the healthcare law, which Republicans insist is an intrusion into individual decision-making.

The vote exposed a rift among Republicans eager to prevent a government shutdown for fear voters will blame them and those who are willing to risk it.

Such paralysing fiscal fights have dominated Washington in recent years, underscoring the deep divide between the Republicans and the Obama administration and its Democratic allies. The two sides have managed in the past to come up with last-minute compromises to avoid a government closure.

Mr Cruz was whipping up House conservatives, urging them to reject efforts by the Republican House leader John Boehner to offer scaled-back assaults on the law, like repealing a tax on medical devices.

“I am confident the House of Representatives will continue to stand its ground, continue to listen to the American people and ... stop this train wreck, this nightmare that is Obamacare,” Mr Cruz said.

Republican leaders had yet to announce a plan heading into an emergency meeting on Saturday of House Republicans. A vote on the as-yet-unwritten measure seemed most likely on Sunday, leaving little time for the Senate to respond on Monday.

The Democratic majority leader Harry Reid warned that the Senate will not accept any House measure that contains provisions opposed by Democrats.

“This is it. Time is gone,” Mr Reid said in a warning to Republicans. “They should think very carefully about their next steps. Any bill that continues to play political games will force a government shutdown.”

Mr Obama criticised conservative Republicans on Saturday in his weekly radio address.

“Republicans in the House have been more concerned with appeasing an extreme faction of their party than working to pass a budget that creates new jobs or strengthens the middle class.”

* Associated Press