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Countdown: GOP unity frays as shutdown grows near

By David Espo

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Sept. 30 2013 4:48 p.m. MDT

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio walks to a House Republican Conference meeting to discuss the ongoing budget fight, Monday, Sept. 30, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Republican unity showed unmistakable signs of fraying Monday as Democrats and the White House vowed to reject tea party-driven demands to delay the nation's health care overhaul as the price for averting a partial government shutdown at midnight.

Evan Vucci, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Their unity fraying, House Republicans bent but did not blink Monday in their demand for changes to the nation's health care overhaul as the price for preventing the first partial government shutdown in 17 years.

"We're at the brink," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., moments after the Senate voted 54-46 to reject the latest GOP attempt to tie government financing to delays in "Obamacare."

The stock market dropped on fears that political gridlock between the White House and a tea party-heavy Republican party would prevail.

As lawmakers squabbled, President Barack Obama urged House Republicans to abandon demands he said were designed to "save face after making some impossible promises to the extreme right of their party." Speaking of the health care law that undergoes a major expansion on Tuesday, he said emphatically, "You can't shut it down."

Earlier, the president said he was willing to discuss budget issues with congressional leaders. He added, "The only way to do that is for everybody to sit down in good faith without threatening to harm women and veterans and children with a government shutdown."

In a fast-paced series of events, the Senate voted to reject a House-passed measure that would have kept the government open while delaying implementation of the health care law for a year and permanently repealing a medical device tax that helps finance it.

House Republicans, reacting swiftly, decided to try again. Their new proposal was to allow the government to remain open, while imposing a one-year delay in a requirement in the health care law for individuals to purchase coverage. Their measure also would require members of Congress and their aides as well as the administration's political appointees to bear the full cost of their own coverage by barring the government from making the customary employer contribution.

"This is a matter of funding the government and providing fairness to the American people," said Speaker John Boehner. "Why wouldn't members of Congress vote for it?"

Asked if a stand-alone spending bill was possible instead, he said, "That's not going to happen."

Democrats said the House GOP measure was doomed in the Senate, and would meet the same fate as every other attempt to delay the law that passed in 2010 and was upheld by the Supreme Court.

A shutdown would cause an uneven impact across the face of government, sending hundreds of thousands of workers home and inconveniencing millions of Americans who rely on government services or are drawn to the nation's parks and other attractions.

Many low-to-moderate-income borrowers and first-time homebuyers seeking government-backed mortgages could face delays, and Obama said veterans' centers would be closed.

About 800,000 federal workers, many already reeling from the effect of automatic budget cuts, would be ordered to report to work Tuesday for about four hours — but only to carry out shutdown-related chores such as changing office voicemail messages and completing time cards. Once they departed, they would be under orders not to do any government work.

With less financial impact but important to many viewers, a camera that feeds images of a new-born panda at the National Zoo would be shut down.

Some critical services such as patrolling the borders, inspecting meat and controlling air traffic would continue. Social Security benefits would be sent, and the Medicare and Medicaid health care programs for the elderly and poor would continue to pay doctors and hospitals.

Ironically, the issue at the core of the dispute, implementation of key parts of "Obamacare," will begin Tuesday on schedule, shutdown or no.

Among Republicans, some said the revised legislation did not go far enough in seeking to delay a law that all members of the party oppose and want to see eradicated.

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