By Alexander Bolton - 09/30/13 06:30 PM EDT
Congress took another step toward a government shutdown Monday as the Senate voted 54-46 to strip language from a House funding bill that delayed ObamaCare by a year.
Senate Democrats called on House Republicans to pass a clean government funding resolution and warned the GOP would take the brunt of the public backlash if government services become severely curtailed.
Democrats also eliminated language allowing employers to opt out of providing insurance coverage of contraception if doing so violates their moral or religious principles.
The afternoon vote leaves Congress where it was at the start of the weekend, with Senate Democrats insisting on passage of a stopgap free of policy riders and House Republicans demanding action on the Affordable Care Act. The government will shut down at midnight unless negotiators reach a compromise.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and other members of his conference floated several proposals Monday to avoid a government shutdown, including a one-week stopgap spending measure.
Sen. Mike Lee (Utah), a Tea Party Republican who has led the effort to link defunding ObamaCare to the stopgap, was recently undecided about how he would react to a one-week stopgap.
“I’d have to think that through under the totality of the circumstances if we had something like that,” he said Friday.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) mocked the GOP idea.
“What about five minutes? Maybe they want to send us a 3 1/2-minute CR? Grow up and just step up to the plate,” said Boxer.
Senate Democrats emerged from a private meeting Monday united behind the idea of sticking with their "clean" continuing resolution, arguing a refusal to consider the House proposals was based on principle as much as anything else.
"Look, the bottom line is very simple. You negotiate on this, they will up the ante for the debt ceiling and the full-time CR," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). "You cannot negotiate when they take hostages and when they extort, period."
And Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) referred to remarks made several days ago by former Vice President Gore, who described the Republican approach as "political terrorism."
"We categorically reject this kind of doomsday bargaining by Tea Party Republicans," said the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, who summed up the GOP position as "if you don't accept what we demand, we're going to blow up the place."
"Well, sadly that's what we're faced with, and I think a lot of us are fed up with this. I know the president's fed up with this," he said. "This is no way for a great nation to conduct its business."
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), however, said it was Reid and Senate Democrats who were threatening to shut down the government with their intransigence on ObamaCare. He also accused Democrats of wanting the government to shut down in order to score political points.
"Harry Reid wants a shutdown, because, sadly, Democrats are putting politics above the needs of the American people," he said in a statement. "This is exactly the kind of DC-based thinking that makes Americans disdain Washington, D.C."
Boxer also argued that Democrats made a significant concession when they agreed to the funding levels passed by the House.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) showed no sign earlier in the day of backing down on the ObamaCare language
“It's time for the Senate to listen to the American people just like the House has listened to the American people and to pass a one-year delay of ObamaCare and a permanent repeal of the medical device tax.”
The Senate Republican cloakroom on Monday blasted an email to GOP lawmakers about the possibility of making continuing appropriations for members of the military.
Senate leaders would need unanimous consent from the chamber to approve a one-week stopgap before the midnight deadline, when government funds expire.
House Republican conservatives might balk at the plan because it would allow the implementation of ObamaCare to begin Oct. 1, when the new law’s open-enrollment period begins.
“There are a number of options Senate Republicans are talking about,” said a GOP aide, “a one week [continuing resolution], locking in military pay. If Democrats insist on a shutdown, let’s pay the military.”
Senate Republicans have also proposed accepting House-passed legislation that would ensure members of the military continue to receive pay if the government shuts down.
“Despite the Democrats’ refusal to work with the House to solve the problem, Republicans are working to protect the troops, prevent a shutdown and find solutions to the difficulties caused by Senate Democrats’ delays,” said Michael Brumas, a spokesman for McConnell.