WASHINGTON—The Republican-controlled House of Representatives approved a bill Friday that keeps the government open while removing funding for President Obama’s health care law, setting up a showdown with the Democratic-controlled Senate as the clock ticks toward a possible shutdown.
Republican lawmakers, confronting Democrats against the will of several party leaders, say they have the American people behind them, citing polls that show diminishing support for the health law. Polls also show that most Americans would blame Republicans for a shutdown.
The 230-189 vote followed raucous debate over an issue that clearly defines the polarization in Washington over the role of government and the tools lawmakers are willing to use to fight for their philosophies.
“The constitutional conservatives in the House are keeping their word to their constituents and the nation,” said Representative John Culberson, a Texas Republican, during debate on the House floor. “...to ensure that we’ve done everything in our power to protect our constituents from the most unpopular piece of legislation ever passed.”
“It’s time to free Americans from the shackles of Obamacare,” said Representative Ted Poe, another Texas Republican, who read from a letter he said was sent by a constituent, who had to send her son to live with relatives because her employer cut back her hours in anticipation of the law’s impact.
The eight members of the Massachusetts delegation, all Democrats, unanimously opposed the GOP measure. Nationally, only two Democrats supported the bill while only one Republican opposed it.
Democrats said the bill was a sign that the most conservative faction of the GOP had succeeded in risking a dangerous government shutdown with an agenda to hurt the neediest.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, took to the floor to say the bill is “without a doubt, a measure designed to shut down government.”
“This place is a mess,” she said. “Let’s get our house in order. We are legislators. We have come here to do a job for the American people.”
While Friday’s vote was a bold statement, both sides seemed well-aware that it was not the last word.
Representative Sander M. Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the tax-writing committee, said the Republican bill would cut insurance for needy children and hurt benefits for the elderly.
“House Republicans will pass this bill. It will sail off to the Senate, surely to return,” he said. “Then it will be squarely up to the Speaker of this House. Will he act as the captain of the entire House of Representatives or remain a captive of his right-wing Republican mates?”
The $986.3 billion spending bill would fund the government through December 15 at current levels, including the across-the-board cuts imposed earlier this year known as the sequester. Democrats would like to restore those cuts and have said they will definitely not delay or defund Obama’s health law, his signature legislative achievement. They are likely to approve a new version of the House’s spending bill next week, returning the measure to the House just ahead of the Sept. 30 funding deadline.
Republican lawmakers pushed back against that charge that they were trying to shut down government and insisted that Friday’s vote showed they had a plan to prevent that. Instead, they said, they were protecting the economy.
“Americans are tired of seeing their government continuing to spend more and more of their hard earned tax dollars,” said Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican. “Let’s defund this law now and protect the American people from the economic calamity that we know Obamacare will create.”