By Mike Lillis - 09/29/13 12:26 PM EDT
House Republicans approved a stopgap spending bill that delays ObamaCare in an early-morning Sunday vote that increases the chances of a government shutdown.
The high-stakes GOP move intensifies a game of chicken with Senate Democrats with just 48 hours to go before the lights could go out on the federal government.
The imminent deadline, combined with the prolonged impasse, has led some lawmakers to predict a shutdown is all but inevitable.
"In candor … when the clock strikes midnight on Monday, the place is shutting down," Rep. Robert Andrews (N.J.), head of the Democrats' Steering and Policy Committee, said Saturday night.
The House added language delaying implementation of the healthcare law by a year in a 231-192 vote, with Democratic Reps. Jim Matheson (Utah) and Mike McIntyre (N.C.) joining Republicans. Two Republicans voted against the delay, Reps. Chris Gibson (N.Y.) and Richard Hanna (N.Y.).
The House also voted to eliminate a tax on medical devices in a 248-174 vote, with 17 Democrats joining the GOP. The tax is intended to pay for some of the law’s costs. Gibson switched his vote from no to yes toward the end of the vote.
Under the rule adopted earlier in the day, the underlying spending bill was deemed passed with the approval of the two amendments.
Unveiled by GOP leaders just hours earlier, the continuing resolution (CR) would fund the government through Dec. 15. It would delay the individual coverage mandate and the insurance exchanges which are set to launch on Tuesday – and eliminate a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices.
Republican supporters said the ObamaCare delay is necessary to prepare a wary public for sweeping changes that lack the underlying infrastructure to make them work. They framed their postponement proposal as a compromise, relative to the defunding measure they had pushed earlier in the month.
“This bill is not about whether ObamaCare is going to come in or not,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.). “What we're voting on is whether or not you'll accept the compromise which we have reached out to offer.”
The argument didn't sit well with Democrats, who were quick to note that the sequester-level spending contained in the Senate-passed bill – a level anathema to many Democrats – is the same as that of the initial House CR.
“You've won,” said Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md), “but you can't take yes for an answer.”
A separate bill, designed to ensure that military personnel are paid even if a shutdown is not averted, was also approved in a unanimous vote.
Republicans characterized the bill as a safety net in the event Congress can't reach a deal. Democrats countered with charges that the proposal is evidence that the GOP's CR strategy is designed to shutter the government.
The CR package was designed to cater to conservative Republicans, who have insisted that any spending package must scale back ObamaCare. Those conservatives had revolted earlier in the month when Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) tried to move a funding bill without that direct link.
The resistance forced GOP leaders to approve a CR last week that would have defunded the healthcare law – language that was stripped by Senate Democrats Friday, putting the ball back in Boehner's court.
At a closely watched meeting of the GOP conference Saturday afternoon in the Capitol basement, Boehner outlined his hard-line strategy, leading to cheers from a conference that's often been wary of his conservative credentials.
“This is exactly what we hoped for so we're all getting behind leadership,” said Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), a Tea Party favorite. “We're excited [and] we're united.”
The bill now moves back to the Senate, where Reid is expected to scrap the two healthcare amendments with a single vote on Monday, when the Senate returns, and return the "clean" CR, yet again, to Boehner and House Republicans.
“To be absolutely clear, the Senate will reject both the one-year delay of the Affordable Care Act and the repeal of the medical device tax,” Reid said in a statement. “After weeks of futile political games from Republicans, we are still at square one: Republicans must decide whether to pass the Senate’s clean CR, or force a Republican government shutdown.”
That move could potentially come just hours before the Tuesday shutdown.
"ObamaCare is based on limitless government, bureaucratic arrogance, and a disregard of the will of the people," said Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.).
The 17 Democrats who voted to eliminate the medical device tax were McIntyre, Matheson, Ron Barber (Ariz.), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), John Barrow (Ga.), Dan Maffei (N.Y.), Patrick Murphy (Fla.), Cheri Bustos (Ill.), John Delaney (Md.), William Enyart (Ill.), Sean Maloney (N.Y.), Jerry McNerney (Calif.), Bill Owens (N.Y.), Scott Peters (Calif.), Nick Rahall (W.Va.), Bradley Schneider (Ill.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.).
Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said in a statement early Sunday that Republicans "failed the American people."
"They voted to shut down the government, all because of their obsession with taking away health insurance for millions of people and giving back to insurance companies the power to decide who gets what care. In their blind pursuit of ideology over our nation’s best interests, Republicans are hurting our economy, threatening job creation, and leaving families with less security and stability," Cummings said.
Pete Kasperowicz contributed to this report.
This report was originally published at 12:18 a.m. and last updated at 8:26 a.m.