2013-09-20 03:22 AM
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. Congress lumbered awkwardly Thursday toward legislation to avert a partial government shutdown, but not before politicking that appeared to keep that prospect alive.
Republicans in the House of Representatives planned a vote Friday on a temporary spending bill to fund the government until Dec. 15 -- but would also kill President Barack Obama's signature health care overhaul. The health care provision, though, has almost no chance of passing the Democratic-led Senate. And Obama said Thursday he will veto it if it does.
That could create an impasse that leads to a shutdown. But more likely, Republicans will eventually accept the Senate version of the funding bill -- with the health care measure stripped out of it. Republican leaders are wary of being blamed for a shutdown. And avoiding this fight would also allow them to focus on a bigger battle later this year over raising the government's borrowing authority.
"There should be no conversation about shutting the government down," said House Speaker John Boehner, top Republican in Congress. "That's not the goal here."
Republicans fiercely oppose the health care law, which requires all Americans to buy health insurance, as a government intrusion into private decision making.
But Boehner and other Republican leaders have resisted efforts by their conservative rank and file to use the spending bill to defund the Affordable Health Care Act, better known as "Obamacare." By setting the vote Friday, Boehner is making a concession to the conservative wing while kicking the battle over to Senate Republicans.
"It's time for the Senate to have this fight," Boehner said.
Congress must pass the temporary spending bill before Oct. 1 to avoid a shutdown, and the Republican-friendly Chamber of Commerce pointedly called on lawmakers to pass urgent spending and borrowing legislation -- unencumbered by debate over "Obamacare."
Despite clear signals that Republican leaders have little appetite for a shutdown fight, it was it was unclear how long it would take Congress to clear the funding measure and how close the government will come to a partial closure.
Some conservative Republicans insisted the House should force a shutdown rather than retreat if the Senate blocks the effort to strip the health care law of funding.
Sen. Ted Cruz, who is backed by the conservative tea party wing, conceded that Senate Democrats have the votes to protect the health care law. If so, he insisted that his allies in the House "must stand firm" and force the shutdown.
The White House vowed to veto the spending bill in the unlikely event that Senate Republicans muster enough votes to gut the health care law.
The White House said the Republican attempt to block "Obamacare" ''advances a narrow ideological agenda that threatens our economy and the interests of the middle class" and would deny "millions of hard-working, middle-class families the security of affordable health coverage."
Far from giving up the effort to kill the health care law, Republican leaders are looking to shift the fight over to even more important legislation required to prevent the government from defaulting on its financial obligations.
A debt-limit measure, required to allow the government to pay all of its bills on time, could be brought to the House floor as early as next week and would allow the Treasury to borrow freely for one year.
Republicans vow to load that bill with a wish list, including another assault on the health care bill and a provision to force the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas Gulf Coast refineries, a project that environmentalists oppose and that the Obama administration so far has refused to approve.
Associated Press writer Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.