Washington (AFP) – President Barack Obama warned Thursday he would never allow Republicans to kill or delay his health care law, raising the stakes in a showdown that could shutter the government or trigger a U.S. debt default.
House of Representatives Republicans are refusing to fund a stopgap budget or raise the $16.7 trillion federal borrowing ceiling unless the president agrees to defund or delay so-called Obamacare — his greatest domestic political achievement.
If no deal is reached in less than five days, the government could shudder to a halt next Tuesday, at the start of the new fiscal year, and by October 17 the United States could default on its debts for the first time ever.
But Obama, speaking at a community college near the U.S. capital, warned sharply he would not tolerate the Republican gambit on health care.
“Some have threatened a government shutdown if they can’t shut down this law,” Obama said. “Others have actually threatened an economic shutdown by refusing to pay America’s bills if they can’t delay the law.”
But “that’s not going to happen as long as I’m president,” he added. “The Affordable Care Act is here to stay.”
The law works by expanding the pool of people buying insurance and sharing costs. It requires all Americans to have health insurance — either by plans provided by their employers or through new health insurance exchanges, which start going into effect on October 1.
Republicans oppose the overall law because they see it as unacceptable government interference. They also argue that the exchanges are not ready.
The House last week passed a temporary budget, known as a continuing resolution (CR), that maintains federal spending at current levels for the coming months while Congress works out a long-term deal.
But it controversially included a provision stripping the health care law of its funding.
The Democratic-led Senate balked, and is widely expected to pass the spending bill with the health care law language stripped out. That vote is scheduled for Friday.
Days before a possible shutdown, House Speaker John Boehner huddled with his Republican caucus Thursday to plot a path forward, and emerged to suggest the House would not approve the Senate bill if it is merely a clean temporary budget.
“I do not see that happening,” Boehner told reporters, adding he would also seek to tie “important spending cuts and pro-growth reforms to a debt limit increase.”
He provided no details about the Republican plans, but conservative lawmakers have spoken of their willingness to raise the U.S. borrowing limit only if key parts of the health care act are delayed.
Boehner also insisted he did not expect a shutdown, but with time running out, the two sides appeared no closer to a resolution.
He also insisted the president would have to negotiate over the debt ceiling.
In response, White House senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer told CNN: “What we’re not for is negotiating with people with a bomb strapped to their chest.”
Adding to the doomsday rhetoric, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stood next to a digital clock that ticked away the seconds until the shutdown deadline, demanding Republicans end their intransigence.
But at times Reid sounded as belligerent as those he criticized.
Asked if he would consider some of the 15 measures Republicans have reportedly sought to include in a debt-ceiling deal, Reid swatted them away with a stern “No.”
As for whether the Senate could pass a continuing resolution or debt ceiling bill that repeals a medical device tax seen by many as an unpopular element of the health care law, a compromise move that has gained some traction, Reid believed doing so would be “stupid.”
And he did little to defuse speculation that there was no genuine plan to avert a shutdown, seeking to pin the blame on Republicans.
“Right now, they do not know what they’re going to do,” Reid said.
As lawmakers bicker, economists have warned of dire fallout if the country defaults on its debts for the first time, noting possible damage to America’s credit rating, massive slumps on stock markets and long-term hurt to U.S. economic growth.