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GOP steps up its vows to kill Obama's healthcare law

By Lisa Mascaro

5:00 PM EDT, September 19, 2013

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WASHINGTON – House Speaker John A. Boehner on Thursday promised a “big victory” when the chamber votes to defund President Obama’s healthcare law as part of a must-pass bill to keep the government running. But it may be short-lived: The White House has promised a veto.

Republicans in Congress believe the American people are on their side as they head toward Friday’s vote, using the threat of a government shutdown on Oct. 1 to force the president to undo his signature healthcare law. They insist opposition to the Affordable Care Act will force Obama to change course.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a potential presidential candidate, vowed Thursday to use “any procedural means necessary,” including a filibuster, to stop the healthcare law in the Senate.

But the White House made it clear Thursday that the president would veto such a bill, and Senate Democrats appear to have the votes to strip the provision to defund the healthcare law, often called Obamacare, and send the funding bill back to the House for another vote.

“I want to be absolutely crystal clear: Any bill that defunds Obamacare is dead, dead,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Thursday. “It's a waste of time.”

Even though Boehner joined with his right flank to pursue the strategy, many top Republicans are wary the party will be blamed if the government shuts down once the money runs out Sept. 30.

The last time the government shut down, during the Clinton administration, it was Republicans led by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia who suffered much of the blame.

Boehner’s conservative majority insist they will not back down. They see the launch of the new health insurance online marketplaces, which begin Oct. 1, as one of their best chances to stop the law.

“This is the reason I came to Congress,” said Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.).

If the Senate sends the funding bill back to the House late next week, as is expected, Boehner may be forced to rely on Democrats to pass it, as many Republicans promise their opposition.

The speaker declined Thursday to say whether he would violate the so-called Hastert Rule, which requires “a majority of the majority” to be on board before a bill is brought up for a vote.

“We'll have plenty of time next weekend to discuss that,” Boehner said, implying that Congress may need to hold a weekend session to avert the shutdown.

The shutdown fight is the first in a series of budget battles House Republicans are promising this fall, with another one coming in a matter of weeks: If Republicans fail to stop the Affordable Care Act now, Boehner will seek a one-year delay of the health law in exchange for the White House’s request to raise the debt limit to continue paying the nation’s bills. That vote is expected in mid-October.

Using the debt limit as leverage is a risky endeavor for the fragile U.S. economy, and the last time congressional Republicans and the White House fought over the debt limit, in 2011, it led to a rare lowering of the U.S. credit rating.

In the days ahead, the options for Cruz and his conservative Senate allies to push the defunding of the healthcare law may be limited.

Cruz came under fire from House Republicans for not vowing a sufficient fight in the upper chamber – one that would require the senators to seize the floor in a round-the-clock filibuster.

“I expect my Senate colleagues to be up for the battle,” Boehner said Thursday.

But under Senate procedures, the GOP may not be able to prevent Democrats from stripping out the healthcare provision unless Republicans tank the entire bill, which they do not appear ready to do.

The Texas senator said the administration should give ordinary Americans the same one-year delay of the mandate to carry health insurance, which begins Jan. 1, 2014, as it has given to businesses.

“This is about the American people,” Cruz said. “Why is President Obama threatening to shut down the federal government to deny those same waivers to hard-working Americans?”

Democrats, though, argued that they will not undo the healthcare law, which has been upheld by the Supreme Court, and the Republican strategy risks shuttering the government.

“Republican leadership has been dragged kicking and screaming into a fight that they know is bad for their party and bad for their country, and they should know it's a fight they will not win,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). “And the whole country has been dragged closer to a government shutdown.”

The funding bill, if approved, would keep the government running until Dec. 15.

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lisa.mascaro@latimes.com

Twitter: @lisamascaroinDC