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April 18, 2014

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Senate votes down House budget bill; Reid says, ‘We are not making changes to Obamacare’

Harry Reid

Harry Reid

As expected, the Senate voted down the House's latest version of a temporary budget bill Monday afternoon in a straight party-line vote, kicking things back to the House with just hours left on the clock before a government shutdown.

"If John Boehner blocks this, he'll be forcing a government shutdown, and it'll be a Republican government shutdown, plain and simple," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said. "Our negotiation is over with."

The House and Senate have been in a standoff over a short-term bill to fund the government, with House Republican leadership insisting that the budget strip away at least some funding for Obamacare, and Senate Democrats refusing to give any ground on the 4-year-old law or its health care exchanges, set to kick in Tuesday.

Senate Democrats insisted last week that the House pass a "clean" budget resolution last week, devoid of the measures to defund Obamacare the House had initially included.

The House answered just after midnight Sunday morning, tossing the Senate back an amended budget that would repeal a tax on medical devices that helps pay for the implementation of Obamacare and delay the opening of the exchanges by one year. The Senate killed those changes Tuesday.

With just about eight hours left before the midnight shutdown, House Republicans were huddled in the basement of the Capitol, planning their next steps.

House Republicans are floating proposals to delay the health insurance mandate by one year and strip away health care subsidies for members of Congress and their staffers — a proposal commonly referred to as the Vitter amendment, after Sen.David Vitter, R-La., who initially proposed it.

If the House manages to pass those measures — or any other changes to Obamacare — Reid has already promised to kill them quickly.

"We are not making changes to Obamacare," Reid said flatly Tuesday.

House leaders, however, were clearly priming a political challenge to Reid, and any other senator who might vote down their latest proposal.

"I'm curious to see if the senator wants to vote for himself a general exemption, a special subsidy," said Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chair of the House Budget Committee. "We don't think members of Congress should be exempted from this law with a special subsidy."

Ryan was confident that Republicans would be able to come up with enough votes in the House to get their bill through.

Emerging from the basement meeting, Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., wouldn't say how he planned to vote on the next iteration of the budget bill this evening. But he, too, sounded confident that the House would produce an answer to the Senate's latest vote, continuing the ping-pong of legislation into the night.

"We still have ... eight hours?" Heck said, checking his watch and criticizing Senate leaders for not having called their members into session Sunday, which would have added at least 24 working hours to the shutdown clock. "The House is ready to meet whatever the Senate sends back to us in a timely manner. I hope the Senate is in a similar position."

Reid said Tuesday that he planned to keep the Senate in session, adding that the Senate could regroup to kill any further attempts to change Obamacare in short order.

"Just give (Obamacare) a little bit of time," Reid added in a plea to Republicans to divert their attention away from the health care bill. "It's going to be as popular as Medicare and Social Security."

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