Washington (AFP) – The U.S. Senate faces a Sunday showdown over whether to keep government running, but bickering over President Barack Obama’s signature health care law is bringing federal agencies dangerously close to a shutdown.
A fractured Congress is struggling to approve a stopgap spending bill that keeps government doors open after the current fiscal year ends next Monday.
The Republican-led House of Representatives last week passed a contentious measure that funds government operations at current levels through December 15, but which also strips the three-year-old health care law, known as “Obamacare,” of all its funding.
Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader, vowed to thwart ongoing Republican efforts to do the same in his chamber, telling reporters on Tuesday that “the Senate will not pass any bill that defunds or delays Obamacare.”
He has set up an initial procedural vote on the matter for midday Wednesday, and both parties acknowledged that the measure will reach the 60 votes necessary in the 100-member body.
Reid said he will then strip out the Obamacare language, and amend the budget bill to fund government only until November 15 instead of mid-December.
That would push Congress to quickly work out a long-term budget deal instead of extending the fiscal crisis right up to the end-of-year holiday period.
Should Reid’s Senate schedule prevail, “we’d finish sometime on Sunday,” he said.
That would leave the House under 48 hours to either pass the amended bill or send a re-worked counteroffer back to the Senate.
‘In a pretty tough spot’
Government agencies would begin shutting their doors early Tuesday if no spending agreement is reached, and hundreds of thousands of federal workers would likely be ordered to stay home with no pay.
The top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell, said he hoped to compress the process, leaving the House more time to work its will.
That lawmaker on Tuesday was freshman Senator Ted Cruz, whose effort to block Reid’s strategy appeared.
“If the House doesn’t get what we send over there until Monday, they’re in a pretty tough spot,” he said.
McConnell also stressed that “any one senator can object to any effort to shorten the process.”
Doomed to failure as McConnell and other Republicans peeled away.