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US House approves controversial government funding bill

Speaker of the House John Boehner arrives at a rally after a vote September 20, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC
Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner arrives at a rally after a vote September 20, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

A divided House of Representatives approved a stop-gap budget measure Friday that would keep the US government operating into fiscal year 2014 but defund President Barack Obama's health care law.

Lawmakers voted 230-189, largely along party lines, in support of the so-called continuing resolution that funds government operations at current levels up to December 15.

Many federal agencies and programs will shutter on October 1, day one of the coming fiscal year, if Congress and the president do not agree on a temporary budget measure.

But the Republican bill, in a nod to the party's more conservative wing, includes a provision that strips funding for the health care law, which the GOP has fought to repeal virtually since its passage more than three years ago.

"Let's defund this law now, and protect the American people from the calamity that we know this law will create," the House's number two Republican, Eric Cantor, told members in final debate before the vote.

Inclusion of the controversial provision, however, virtually assures that the bill will not become law.

Senate leader Harry Reid has promised defeat of the measure in the Democrat-run chamber, saying on Thursday that "any bill that defunds Obamacare is dead here."

The term "Obamacare" was coined by Obama's critics to describe the health care law.

Reid has signaled he would seek to strip out the provision and approve a clean funding bill next, sending it back to the House with little room for maneuver.

"Unfortunately, we'll be back here again next week, facing the same crisis," House Democrat Nita Lowey said in arguing against the House bill.

Speaker of the House John Boehner (2nd R) celebrates after a vote September 20, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC
US Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner(2nd R) celebrates during a rally as other House Republicans look on after a vote September 20, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC

Republican leaders in the chamber will then be under intense pressure to pass the Senate measure, amend it to reduce federal funding and send it back to the Senate, or revisit the health care debate and risk a potentially devastating government shutdown after September 30.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi warned that members ought to "get our House in order" and pass a clean CR, without the health care law defund, or risk a fiscal crisis that could cost millions of jobs and hit the US credit rating.

"What is brought to the floor here today is, without a doubt, a measure designed to shut down government. It could have no other intent," Pelosi fumed.

Shortly before the vote, the White House warned of the dangers of running right up to the last minute on passing a temporary budget, or potentially refusing to raise the country's debt ceiling.

"The last thing we can afford right now is a decision by a minority of Republicans in Congress to throw our economy back into crisis by refusing to pay our country's bills or shutting down the government," a White House official said.

"Instead of playing politics with the economy, Republicans in Congress should join the president to focus on creating a better bargain for the middle class."

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