WASHINGTON - House Republicans pushed through a stopgap spending bill Friday that would strip all funding for President Obama's health care law, setting up another bitter fiscal showdown just 10 days before much of the federal government is set to run out of money
The 230-to-189 vote set in motion a fiscal confrontation whose outcome is anything but clear. Two Democrats voted for the measure, and one Republican voted against it. With no resolution, large swathes of the government could shut down Oct. 1, and the nation's first default on federal debt could follow weeks later.
"We had a victory today for the American people, and frankly, we also had a victory for common sense," Speaker John A. Boehner said after the vote. He added, "Our message to the United States Senate is real simple: The American people don't want the government shutdown and they don't want Obamacare."
Even as the House muscled through its spending bill, House Republican leaders met behind closed doors with their rank and file on Friday to lay out the next step in the budget battle: a bill that would raise the government's statutory borrowing limit, delay implementation of the health care law for a year, and push a grab-bag of Republican initiatives like binding instructions to overhaul the tax code and mandatory construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
All of the measures tied to the debt-ceiling increase have passed the Republican-controlled House before, only to be ignored by the Senate. But this time, said Representative John Fleming, Republican of Louisiana, "we haven't applied it to a must-pass piece of legislation."
The two bills - to finance the government through Dec. 15 and raise the debt ceiling - were intended to unite House Republicans and placate an emboldened right wing of the party.
"The House has been fighting to stop Obamacare since 2009, and we have said over and over again, this law is going to increase the costs for the working middle class families of this country and we're now seeing it," Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the majority leader, said after the vote. "We've said from the beginning that this law will harm our economy, and we're seeing our economy turn from a full-time job economy to a part-time job economy. That's why we are doing our job, and now it is up to Senate Democrats to show some responsibility and follow the House's lead."
But the gambit also sets Congress down a path with no definitive end, with stakes that rise by the day. Absent a deal between the House, Senate and White House, much of the government would shut down on Oct. 1. And by mid-October, the federal government would face its first debt default, an outcome that would roil the international economy and deal a blow to a domestic economy just getting to its feet.
"We are legislators. We have come here to do a job for the American people," pleaded Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House minority leader. "What is brought to the floor today is without a doubt a measure designed to shut down the government. It could have no other intent."
The House bill would keep the government operating at the current funding level, which reflects the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts that took effect in March. It also would block spending on the health care law, just days before the uninsured begin signing up to purchase private health care coverage through insurance marketplaces known as exchanges.
Mr. Obama has already issued a threat to veto the bill, but it will never reach his desk. Even Senate Republican supporters say they cannot push it through the Democratic-controlled Senate. Instead, the Senate is likely to strip the health care provision from the bill next week and send it back to the House.
At that point, Mr. Boehner would face a choice: put a spending bill on the floor, unencumbered by other policy measures, and allow it to pass primarily with Democratic votes, or attach some other Republican measure and send it back to the Senate with the clock ticking toward a shutdown.
Senior Republicans say Mr. Boehner will most likely choose the latter course, possibly attaching a provision to delay tax penalties on uninsured Americans who decline to purchase health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.
But even before such next steps were worked out, House Republican leaders were driving their party toward the next showdown over the debt ceiling. That could prove an even more white-knuckled ride, since a default on Treasury debt would have far greater economic implications than a partial government shutdown.
The House debt ceiling bill is not complete, but as described to House Republicans on Friday morning, it will have something for every stripe of Republican in the diverse and often splintered House conference. It would block the health care law for a year, roll back environmental regulations on industrial boilers and coal ash, set forth binding parameters for the overhaul and simplification of the tax code, facilitate the construction of the Keystone pipeline from Canada's oil shale fields to export facilities and refineries in Louisiana, and possibly contain other items of a House Republican wish list that has grown long over three years of divided government.
The bill could come up for a vote as soon as late next week, House Republican leadership aides said. That could unite Republicans, many of whom have publicly expressed grave misgivings over another round of budgetary brinkmanship for which voters will most likely blame them.
But beneath the public display of unity, cracks were showing, especially between House and Senate Republicans. House Republicans continued to seethe over Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, whom they see as goading them into tying government funding to the gutting of the health care law only to turn his back and say he cannot help them get the linkage through the Senate.
"Right now we're on the right path," grumbled Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York. "If nothing else, we've vanquished Ted Cruz."