* House Republicans ram spending bill through House
* Senate Democrats to kill Obamacare defunding ploy
* Obama tells Boehner he won't negotiate on debt ceiling
By Richard Cowan and Thomas Ferraro
WASHINGTON, Sept 20 A familiar Washington
melodrama - will they or won't they shut down the government -
took center stage on Friday when the Republican-controlled House
of Representatives passed a bill to fund the government, but
only if President Barack Obama's landmark healthcare law is
Notching their 42nd vote against "Obamacare" and knowing
full well the Democratic Senate will reject it, Republicans in
the House cast their votes, staged a noisy celebration in front
of a placard declaring: "SenateMustAct," and then left town for
several days to give time for the Senate to demolish its work.
"The Senate will not pass any bill that defunds or delays
Obamacare," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said flatly.
Later on Friday, Obama called House Speaker John Boehner, to
reiterate he would not negotiate on another bill that will soon
be before Congress: one to increase U.S. borrowing authority,
which is rapidly approaching its $16.7 trillion limit.
House Republicans said they were considering a series of
controversial initiatives to attach to that bill, which likely
prompted Obama's phone call.
A White House official said Obama told Boehner in the call
that the American people had worked long and hard to dig the
country out of the financial crisis and the last thing they
needed was another politically motivated, self-inflicted wound.
Obama, who would veto any bill that stripped funds from his
healthcare law, hit the road too, as he has in past fiscal
showdowns. "They're not focused on you," he said of the
Republicans as he spoke at a Ford plant in Liberty, Missouri.
"They're focused on politics. They're focused on how to mess
Jeff Wright, a United Auto Workers officer waiting for
Obama, commented, "They're completely dysfunctional."
If both houses fail to pass a bill funding the government,
it could shut down on Oct. 1, although most Capitol Hill
observers doubt it will come to that.
Without prompt agreement in Congress on a new funding bill,
agencies including the FBI, Education Department, Defense
Department and Environmental Protection Agency would have to
curtail many non-essential operations on Oct. 1, the first day
of the new fiscal year.
CALLING OUT DEMOCRATS
The Republican maneuver seemed equally designed to get
members of Congress in both houses on the record on Obamacare in
the run-up to the 2014 congressional elections.
After the vote on Friday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor
called out the names of potentially vulnerable Senate Democrats
who will now be confronted with casting a vote on an issue
Republicans see as a winner for them.
But even some Republicans, particularly in the Senate, have
been dismissive of their House colleagues' tactics, calling them
They were joined on Thursday by New York Republican
Representative Peter King, who told CNN that the party was
"carrying out a fraud with the people by somehow implying or
even saying that this strategy is going to win."
He then voted in favor of the funding bill, complete with
the Obamacare provision.
Representative Scott Rigell of Virginia, the lone Republican
to vote against the House bill, was accused of a "betrayal" by
the politically conservative advocacy group, Americans for
Limited Government. The group's president, Nathan Mehrens, said
Rigell "now owns it every bit as much as if he had voted for
Rigell, who represents a district with a heavy military
presence, defended his stance. He said the spending bill failed
to address the steep automatic spending cuts on defense
The measure passed on Friday on a largely partisan vote of
230-189. Only two centrist Democrats, Representatives Jim
Matheson of Utah and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, voted for
As Republicans celebrated its passage with a "rally" in the
Capitol, some senior members of the party confided to Reuters
that their leaders appeared to have no plan on how to both
please conservatives, who push for smaller government, and
ultimately get legislation enacted into law.
Asked what Boehner would do if the Senate, as expected,
removes the Obamacare provision and sends a bill back to the
House that simply continues government programs at their
current rate of spending, one House Republican said: "We don't
know what they (leadership) would do. ... I don't think they
know what they would do."
'WOLF IN WOLF'S CLOTHING'
Against that backdrop, the debate over Obamacare and
government spending raged on the House floor with neither
Republicans nor Democrats showing any sign of compromise.
"Let's defund this law now and protect the American people
from the economic calamity that we know Obamacare will create,"
Cantor said as he argued that employers were cutting back on
their workers' hours in order to skirt requirements of the
Cantor's counterpart, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi,
shot back at Republicans: "You know what that's about? That's
simply about putting their friends, the insurance companies back
in charge of medical decisions for your families."
Pelosi also called the bill "a wolf in wolf's clothing."
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers urged
quick passage of the bill that he said "is absolutely necessary
to keep the lights on" at government agencies.
Republican Representative Frank Wolf implored, "You can't
shut down the federal prison system, FBI counterterrorism
activities," weather forecasting and NASA space exploration.
Government spending was not the only cloud hovering over the
Sometime in October or early November, the U.S. Treasury
will hit its $16.7 trillion limit on borrowing. Without
legislation to raise the "statutory debt ceiling," the United
States, for the first time, would default on loans from
bondholders such as the Chinese government.
Here again, House Republicans were in disarray as
conservatives pressed to attach the destruction of Obamacare and
other pet initiatives to a debt limit measure.
Veteran Representative Pete Sessions was swarmed by
reporters as he left a closed-door meeting of his fellow
Asked what would be attached to a debt limit bill that is
supposed to come to the House floor next week, Sessions said:
"What we're trying to do is come together as a team to
understand what all might be in that. When we do that, we'll
have an idea what we're going to do. There are options and ideas
Sessions declined to elaborate.