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Sides entrenched in battle over budget

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By McClatchy Newspapers
Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 8:54 p.m.

WASHINGTON — President Obama and congressional Republicans on Wednesday began hurtling toward an unpredictable collision over the federal budget, as the House planned to vote to strip money from the national health care law while the White House readied plans for a government shutdown.

The vote in the Republican-dominated House, expected this week, will set the stage for a spending showdown that is likely to last for days. Next week, the House plans to discuss a measure aimed at delaying the health car law.

The federal fiscal year begins Oct. 1, and unless Congress and Obama agree on a budget, much of the government will be out of business.

The Republican plan would finance the government while defunding implementation of the 2010 health care law. It is expected to pass the House but stall in the Democratic-led Senate.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the administration would not accept any delays to the health care law to avoid a shutdown.

The House plan is likely to be the first phase of a weeks-long clash over the federal budget as Democrats look to keep the government open, restore funding cut by sequestration and raise the debt ceiling to allow the government to borrow to pay bills already approved by Congress and incurred. The Republicans, while insisting they want to keep the government running, want to kill the health care law and lock in spending cuts.

With no talks under way, the White House Office of Management and Budget asked federal agencies to begin contingency planning for a government shutdown.

“There is enough time for Congress to prevent a lapse in appropriations, and the administration is willing to work with Congress to enact a short-term continuing resolution to fund critical government operations and allow Congress the time to complete the full year 2014 appropriations,” Director Sylvia Burwell wrote. “However, prudent management requires that agencies be prepared for the possibility of a lapse.”

Pressure mounted from other quarters. The influential U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to members of Congress warning of the danger of inaction.

“It is not in the best interest of the U.S. business community or the American people to risk even a brief government shutdown that might trigger disruptive consequences or raise new policy uncertainties washing over the U.S. economy,” wrote Bruce Josten, the chamber's executive vice president for government affairs.

House Republican leaders last week wanted separate votes on a budget and on defunding the 2010 health care law. That way, the Senate could approve the budget but turn down the health care measure, and the government would keep running.

But Republican conservatives rebelled, and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, changed course.

“We're going to continue to do everything we can to repeal the president's failed health care law,” he said after a closed-door meeting with House Republicans. “This week, the House will pass a (budget) that locks the sequester savings in and defunds Obamacare.” The bill is expected to allow the government to continue paying bills even if the debt limit is reached.

Democrats painted the House Republican plan as a sellout to the far right. Obama accused a “small faction” of Republicans of extortion for tying budget talks and a vote on raising the debt ceiling to defunding his signature health care plan.

“You have never seen in the history of the United States the debt ceiling or the threat of not raising the debt being used to extort a president or a governing party and trying to force issues that have nothing to do with the budget and nothing to do with the debt,” he said.

Obama, who addressed the Republican-leaning Business Roundtable, said he was prepared to negotiate over entitlements and “priorities that the Republicans think we should be promoting and priorities that they think we shouldn't be promoting.”

But, he said, “What I will not do is to create a habit, a pattern, whereby the full faith and credit of the United States ends up being a bargaining chip to set policy. It's irresponsible.”

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