WASHINGTON — By approving a government spending bill that would halt money for President Barack Obama's health care law, the House on Friday provoked a confrontation with the Senate, which is likely to engage in a contentious debate leaving little time to avert a government shutdown.
After voting about 40 times to curtail or repeal outright the 3-year-old Affordable Care Act, only to see the Senate either dismiss or ignore the proposals, House Republicans celebrated the latest measure's approval. They hope that the leverage of a tight deadline will force Democrats and the White House to delay the president's health care law. The current authorization for the government to spend money runs out Sept. 30.
Party leaders were initially reluctant to adopt the strategy, which was championed by some conservative lawmakers and tea-party-aligned advocacy groups. They worried about the possible fallout for Republicans if the government was forced to shut down all but the most essential operations. The bill would allow the government to function through Dec. 15, potentially setting up another budget showdown then.
But Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was cheered by dozens of rank-and-file members as he arrived at a news conference after the 230-189 vote. "The House has listened to the American people. Now it's time for the United States Senate to listen to them as well," he said.
"Our message to the United States Senate is real simple. The American people don't want the government shut down, and they don't want Obamacare."
The Senate's Democratic leaders have been steadfast in insisting that any attempt to throttle the health law would be defeated. A number of Senate Republicans have also questioned the approach because they are outnumbered in the Senate.
Obama, on a visit to a Ford plant in Missouri on Friday to highlight economic growth, quoted a Republican senator who said shutting down the government over the health care law was "the dumbest idea I've ever heard."
"I agree with him," Obama said. "They're not focused on you. They're focused on politics. They're focused on trying to mess with me."
Even Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a chief proponent of the strategy, has acknowledged that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., probably has the votes to send a spending bill back to the House without the health care provision.
But Cruz and fellow Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah said they would use any procedural steps possible to reach a different outcome — perhaps staging a rare traditional talking filibuster on the Senate floor.
The Senate, which was not in session Friday, will return Monday and probably hold the first of several procedural votes Wednesday. The final vote may not come until the following Sunday, because Republicans are expected to delay the process at every step.
"Not only are the Republicans setting themselves up to lose on funding the government, but they're painting themselves into a corner on the debt ceiling as well. They have no exit strategy," Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement.
But Republicans signaled that they do see at least one political benefit: requiring Democratic senators who face difficult re-election campaigns in 2014 to cast a high-profile vote. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., listed four Democrats who represent Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina, states that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney carried last year.
Two of them, Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Kay Hagan, D-N.C., have indicated they do not support stopping money for the health law as part of the bill to keep the government running.
House leaders have been working on a strategy to respond if the Senate does strip the health care provision from the measure. They potentially would have no more than 48 hours to approve a new spending bill before a government shutdown — the first in nearly two decades — would begin.
Some Republicans may want to try again by attaching another provision to alter the health care law, perhaps to delay specific mandates or taxes. Others want to push forward to the next battleground — the mid-October fight over the administration's request to raise the debt limit to continue paying the nation's bills.
Republicans met Friday morning to hear about the debt limit bill, which could come to a vote in the House next week. That legislation will propose swapping a one-year increase in the nation's debt limit for a host of Republican policy priorities. Among them: approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline and, most prominently, a one-year delay of the health care law.