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House votes to keep US government funded, for now

September 20, 2013

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a temporary funding bill to keep the government running Friday but tied it to an attempt to cripple President Barack Obama’s landmark health care overhaul.

It’s a risky ploy that threatens a partial shutdown of the government in a week and a half.

The stopgap funding measure needs to pass by the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year to keep the government fully functioning. Typically, such measures advance with sweeping bipartisan support, but conservative tea party activists forced Republican leaders — against their better judgment — to add a provision to defund the health care law that is the signature accomplishment of Obama’s first term.

The House vote sets the stage for a confrontation with the Democratic-controlled Senate, which promises to strip that provision from the bill next week. It will challenge the House to pass it as a simple, straightforward funding bill that Obama will sign.

Obama responded furiously Friday, accusing Republicans who voted against his health care law of focusing on politics and “holding the whole country hostage.”

“We’re not some banana republic. This isn’t some deadbeat nation,” Obama said before workers at a Missouri auto plant. “The entire world looks to us to make sure the world economy is stable. We can’t just not pay our bills. And even threating something like that is the height of irresponsibility.”

Obama, who has said repeatedly he will not negotiate over debt limit legislation, called Boehner late in the day to tell him that directly. The speaker expressed disappointment, his office said, and responded that Congress “will chart the path ahead.”

Obama responded in remarks before an audience at a Ford assembly plant near Kansas City, Mo.

He blamed a “faction on the far right of the Republican Party” for threatening to shut down government operations or default on government debts. “They’re focused on trying to mess with me,” he told plant workers. “They’re not focused on you.”

The fight comes as Washington prepares for an even bigger battle over increasing the government’s borrowing cap to make sure the government can pay its bills.

The U.S. faces the risk of its first-ever default on a broader set of obligations when the government runs out of borrowing ability by mid- to late October.

Top Republicans have indicated they have no appetite for a shutdown and would be willing the pass the bill without the health care provision. But it is unclear how much clout the leadership has over tea party-backed lawmakers still insisting the shutdown is worth the risk.

Republicans fiercely oppose the health care law, which requires all Americans to buy health insurance. Calling it “Obamacare,” they see it as a government intrusion into private decision making.

“The American people don’t want the government shut down, and they don’t want “Obamacare,” House Speaker John Boehner said after the vote.

Obama has said he won’t be forced into making concessions as he did in the 2011 debt crisis, when he accepted $2.1 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years.

A temporary government funding bill is needed because Washington’s longstanding budget stalemate has derailed the annual appropriations bills required to fund federal agency operations.

A government shutdown would delay pay for federal workers, send non-essential federal workers home, close national parks and shut passport offices. Essential programs like air traffic control, food inspection and the Border Patrol would keep running.


Associated Press writer Andrew Taylor contributed.

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