Sep 30, 2013

    US govt hurtles towards shutdown

    THE United States House of Representatives yesterday took the federal government closer to a shutdown as it voted to delay President Barack Obama's landmark health-care law for a year, as part of an emergency spending Bill.

    By a mostly partisan vote of 231-192, the Republican-controlled House approved an Obamacare amendment, despite a veto threat from the White House. It also voted 248-174 to repeal a medical-device tax that aims to help fund health-care programmes under the 2010 law.

    House Speaker John Boehner had attempted to avoid this fight, offering a plan earlier this month that would not have tied Obamacare to the extension of government funding, but later gave in to the demands ofhis party's far-right conservative wing.

    "We will do our job and send this Bill over, and then it's up to the Senate to pass it and stop a government shutdown," he said.

    And in a sign that lawmakers might be resigned to a government shutdown beginning tomorrow, the House unanimously approved a Bill to keep paying US soldiers in the event the government runs out of money to run many programmes.

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reiterated on Saturday that the House Bill would be dead on arrival in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Mr Obama had threatened to veto any Bill that delays his health-care restructuring.

    There is a slight chance the two sides could reach a funding deal before the government's fiscal year ends at midnight (US time) today. Congress could also act at any time to end the impasse if a shutdown occurs.

    But the bitterness of the House debate on Saturday night, which spilled into early yesterday, did not bode well for prospects of a compromise.

    The finger pointing coursed through hours of contentious, raucous debate on the House floor, with Republicans charging that Democrats would be on the hook for any government closure.

    Democratic Representative David Scott of Georgia stood up to say that what was occurring was nothing less than "a shutdown being ordered by the Republican Party".

    Breaking protocol as he addressed Republican members directly, he said: "You have been hijacked by a small group of extreme folk who simply hate this President.

    "The American people are never going to forget that it was you who shut down the government."

    Referring to Obamacare, Republican Representative John Culberson of Texas shouted: "The American people deserve to have time to see what this monstrosity will do before it is implemented."

    The stand-off is also a harbinger for the next big political battle in Washington: A far more consequential Bill to raise the federal government's borrowing authority.

    Failure to raise the debt ceiling by the middle of next month could result in the government defaulting on its obligations.

    The funding impasse is the culmination of more than three years of failed conservative efforts to repeal Obamacare, a programme aimed at extending health insurance to millions of people without coverage.