With Shutdown Looming, Senate Takes Up Stopgap Spending Bill

As the U.S. government braces for a shutdown, the Senate voted Monday to reject amendments to a stopgap spending bill passed by the House of Representatives that would have delayed the healthcare law for a year and repeal a tax on medical devices, and returned a "clean" continuing resolution that would keep the government open until Nov. 15 — and leave Obamacare intact — to the House.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And on Capitol Hill, words of anger and frustration today over the increasing likelihood of a government shutdown. This morning in the House, members of both parties took to the floor and pointed fingers.

REPRESENTATIVE EARL BLUMENAUER: If you're serious about working together to solve problems, why don't you work together to solve problems?

REPRESENTATIVE TED POE: Where oh where has the Senate gone? Where oh where can they be? With time so short and issues so long, where oh where has the Senate gone?

REPRESENTATIVE NITA LOWEY: I say to my colleagues across the aisle: stop trying to shut down the government of the United States of America.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: The Senate decided not work yesterday. Well, my goodness. If there's such an emergency, where are they?

BLOCK: That was House Speaker John Boehner and before that, Democrat Nita Lowey of New York, Republican Ted Poe of Texas and Democrat Earl Blumenauer of Oregon.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Later, the democratically-controlled Senate rejected a revised spending bill sent over by the House. If passed, the measure would have delayed the health care law for a year. After the vote, it was the Senate's turn to lay blame.

SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL: My plea today to Speaker Boehner is quit making decisions on behalf of all your members, a small group of you huddled in a back room.

SENATOR LAMAR ALEXANDER: People expect us to act like adults, work together, come to a result so we can change the health care law, and we can keep the government going.

BLOCK: That was Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democrat Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

CORNISH: More on where things now stand with just hours to go before the midnight deadline. We're joined by NPR senior Washington editor, Ron Elvin. Hey there, Ron.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Audie.

CORNISH: Let's get into the weeds. What in the world happens next?

(LAUGHTER)

ELVING: Now what's going to happen, another version of its government funding bill, and it's going to have a couple of more Obamacare features on it. It's going to delay for one year the key element of the Affordable Care Act, the individual responsibility to have health insurance. And it's also going to eliminate the government contribution to the health insurance cost of members of Congress and their staffs. Now, that's been a major topic on conservative talk radio in recent days. So this bill will go to the House floor in the late hours tonight, before midnight, and be passed with Republican votes.

CORNISH: So what about a vote on the Senate-passed version, that's the spending package they described as clean, meaning it's without the health care law changes.

ELVING: There will not be a vote on that tonight in the House. If there were, it would probably pass with a mixture of Republican and Democratic votes that would probably pass pretty easily and there would be no shutdown.

CORNISH: So, come again, why don't they give that a try?

ELVING: Because, as I say, it would pass and that would undermine the entire campaign that's underway here, which is to use the threat of a government shutdown to force a negotiation over whether or not the Affordable Care Act is going to be implemented, to delay and block the beginning of Obamacare.

CORNISH: All right. Another scenario, is there a chance Speaker Boehner and the House would choose to do that rather than let the government shut down?

ELVING: He could. That is his choice. But he were to do that, he would face a revolt against his leadership in his own ranks tomorrow in the Republican conference, and he might not be speaker anymore.

CORNISH: So walk us through what could happen tonight. The House passes another version of the bill with these health care law changes attached and then...

ELVING: Well, sometime around midnight or thereabouts, they might get a little bit into the wee hours, the Senate will take it up, and the Senate will again say no, as it did over the weekend and as it did this afternoon. And that means that the government will not open for business as usual tomorrow.

CORNISH: So can we expect, I guess, dueling press conferences as we go into evening, I mean, with the president coming out to speak today?

ELVING: Yes, continual dueling press conferences throughout the evening as the president has gotten in his (unintelligible) here in recent moments. And we will hear again from the Republicans in response, and then we will hear again from the Senate Democrats in response. There will be plenty of material for us all to continue to chew over. But there does not appear to be any kind of last minute negotiation or last minute chance that they're going to avoid this shutdown.

CORNISH: That's NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Ron, thank you.

ELVING: Thank, Audie.

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