WASHINGTON — The U.S. House took the first step Thursday to blocking the health care law with a must-pass budget bill, as members of both parties dug in for a fight that could lead to a government shutdown in less than two weeks.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, who has spoken strongly against shutting down the government, guided a resolution through the House setting the parameters for debate on a bill that would fund all government functions except the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
House Republicans are expected to pass that legislation easily on Friday and send it to the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Cole argued Thursday that the bill crafted to defund Obamacare was intended to avoid a government shutdown because it provided money to all other government departments through Dec. 15.
“We have no intent and no desire to shut down the government,” Cole said.
Cole's resolution passed 230-192; the five members from Oklahoma, all Republicans, voted for it.
The White House threatened to veto the bill, though President Barack Obama is not likely to see the legislation in its current form.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said, “Any bill that defunds Obamacare is dead. Dead.”
With the clock ticking toward Sept. 30, when funding for many government activities runs out, all kinds of scenarios appeared possible as the feud over the health care law took center stage.
At a news conference, Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa, said people in his district want the law repealed.
“They want it defunded, they want it dismantled, they want it to go away,” Bridenstine said.
The freshman was among those pushing House Republican leaders for the last few weeks to require a vote defunding Obamacare as a condition for funding the rest of government.
Most members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation have been skeptical that the approach would work — and they're worried that Republicans will be blamed if the government shuts down — but all five of the state's House members are expected to vote on Friday for the bill.
What happens in the Senate remains to be seen, but Reid may be able to employ procedural maneuvers to strip the language on Obamacare and send the House back a bill that would simply keep the government running until mid-December.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, of California, said the legislation defunding Obamacare was a tea party tactic that would lead to a government shutdown and exacerbate the harmful economic effects of the budget cuts known as the sequester that caused many agencies to furlough workers.