Government shutdown: House of Representatives meets for Saturday session
WASHINGTON (AP) - Lawmakers from both parties urged one another in a rare weekend session to give ground in their fight over preventing a federal shutdown, with the midnight Monday deadline fast approaching.
But there was no sign of yielding Saturday in a down-to-the-wire struggle that tea party lawmakers are using to try derailing President Barack Obama's health care law.
Obama, in his weekly radio and Internet address, accused House Republicans of being more concerned "with appeasing an extreme faction of their party than working to pass a budget."
With pressure mounting on splintered Republicans, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, scheduled a closed-door, lunchtime meeting of GOP lawmakers to see what, if any, legislation he could push through that might prevent large parts of the government from shuttering.
Failure to pass a short-term measure to keeping the government running would mean the first partial closing in almost 20 years.
With nothing much to work on, House members took to their chamber's floor and mixed name-calling with cries for compromise.
"I've got a titanium backbone. Let 'em blame, let 'em talk, it's fine," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., about Democratic claims that the GOP would be at fault if the government must close.
She said the GOP wanted to keep the government open, but also wanted to reduce its size and "delay, defund, repeal and replace Obamacare," as the health law is known.
Should the House approve legislation on the looming shutdown, a vote seemed most likely Sunday, leaving little time for the Senate to respond on Monday.
Senators on Friday sent a bill to the House that would keep the government's doors open until Nov. 15. But Democrats removed a provision to defund the health law, officially called the Affordable Care Act.
The Senate's 54-44 vote was strictly along party lines in favor of the bill, which would prevent a shutdown of nonessential government services.
That followed a 79-19 vote to cut off a filibuster by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that exposed a rift among Republicans eager to prevent a shutdown and those, like Cruz, who seem willing to risk one over the health overhaul.
All 52 Democrats, two independents and 25 of 44 Republicans voted in favor. That included Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and most of the GOP leadership.
Cruz was trying to rally House conservatives to continue the battle over heath care. He was urging them to reject efforts by Boehner and other GOP leaders to offer scaled-back assaults on the law such as repealing a tax on medical devices as the House response.
Some conservatives were taking their cues from Cruz rather than party leaders such as Boehner hoping to avoid a shutdown. Closing down the government could weaken Republicans heading into an even more important battle later in October over allowing the government to borrow more money.
"We now move on to the next stage of this battle," Cruz said after the Senate vote. He told reporters he had had numerous conversations with fellow conservatives in recent days.
"I am confident the House of Representatives will continue to stand its ground, continue to listen to the American people and ... stop this train wreck, this nightmare that is Obamacare," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., warned that the Senate will not accept any House measure that contains provisions opposed by Democrats.
He knows better than anyone that any single senator could slow down the Senate's ability to return yet another version to the House.
"This is it. Time is gone," Reid said.
If lawmakers miss the deadline, hundreds of thousands of nonessential federal workers would have to stay home on Tuesday.
Critical services such patrolling the borders, inspecting meat and controlling air traffic would continue. Social Security benefits would be sent and the Medicare and Medicaid health care programs for the elderly and poor would continue to pay doctors and hospitals.
The new health insurance exchanges would open Tuesday, a development that's lent urgency to the drive to use a normally routine stopgap spending bill to gut implementation of the law.