House Republicans survived a key test vote Thursday on their plan to keep the government running while trying to halt the health care law, defying a veto threat from President Obama and inching closer to a shutdown showdown with Senate Democrats.
Top Republicans say their party's strategy is unlikely to succeed and not worth shutting down the government, but some rank-and-file lawmakers said they have to draw a line now and use the leverage of the spending bill to end the president's signature achievement.
Democrats were just as adamant. The White House issued a statement vowing a veto, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said the bill to defund the health care act has no chance.
"So in case there's any shred of doubt in the minds of our House counterparts, I want to be absolutely crystal clear — any bill that defunds Obamacare is dead, dead," Mr. Reid said.
Congress must act quickly to pass a short-term spending plan that funds federal operations past Sept. 30 to avoid a government shutdown.
The House took the first step Thursday, voting 230-192 to bring a bill to the floor Friday that would fund most of the government but would withhold funding for the health care law.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, is under pressure from the right wing of his caucus. He said the fight will carry over to the debt limit battle next month, when House Republicans will insist on a delay of Obamacare in exchange for letting the government continue to borrow money.
If the House passes its bill Friday, it shifts the debate to the Senate, where Mr. Boehner says it will be up to a vocal group of Republican senators to rally the votes.
"It's time for them to pick up the mantle and get the job done," he said.
With battle lines drawn, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah said they will work to convince skeptical Republicans and vulnerable Democrats from red states that Obamacare must be stopped before it takes root.
But Mr. Reid and Mr. Obama stand in the way.
The White House said Thursday that the president would veto the House spending resolution because it "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."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, accused House Republicans of "playing with fire."
"Shutting down the government is one bad thing — but you shut it down, you open it up again," she said. "Not lifting the debt limit is unleashing a torrent, a river of no return. It is beyond cataclysmic."
The debate is heating up at a critical juncture for the health care law. In just days, Americans without employer-based coverage may begin to enroll in state-based insurance markets, known as exchanges, where they can buy health plans, often with the help of income-based government subsidies.
Mr. Cruz and his fellow conservatives say Mr. Obama and his allies are holding government funding hostage over an unpopular law that amounts to a "job killer."
The outspoken Texan vowed to use every procedural tool in his arsenal to beat back the health care law, once Mr. Reid sets the boundaries of debate on the Senate floor.
"I will do everything necessary, and anything possible, to defund Obamacare," Mr. Cruz said.
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