WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders said Sunday that they still believed a government shutdown beginning Tuesday could be averted if Democrats would accept at least some of their demands to scale back President Barack Obama’s health care law.
“I think the House will get back together, in enough time, send another provision not to shut the government down but to fund it, and it will have a few other options in there for the Senate to look at,” Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican whip, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Specifically, McCarthy mentioned a tax on medical devices that pays for a part of the health care law. The House voted in the early hours of Sunday to rescind the tax and delay the health care law by a year as conditions for financing government operations and avoiding a shutdown.
Those measures will be considered by the Senate when it convenes at 2 p.m. on Monday, just 10 hours before a stopgap measure to finance much the government is set to expire.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the Senate Democratic leader, has said that any bill that alters the president’s signature health care program would be dead on arrival in the upper chamber, although the device tax has critics in both parties and is seen as a possible subject of compromise.
Some Republicans seemed offended that the Senate was waiting until its normally scheduled time Monday to resume business — leaving the House with scant time to respond to the other chamber’s next move.
“There’s no reason the Senate should be home on vacation” at such a time, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, one of the sharpest critics of the health care law, said Sunday on the NBC program “Meet the Press.”
Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat in that chamber, said he would be willing to consider the medical devices tax, “but not with a gun to my head, not with the prospect of shutting down the government.”
Asked whether he expected a shutdown, he said, in resigned tones, “I’m afraid I do.”
The legislative back-and-forth, which has brought the government to the brink of what would be its 18th shutdown, is expected continue into the late-night hours Monday as the House and Senate pursue separate paths.
The Senate is expected Monday to dispense of the House bill quickly and then send back to the House a budget bill that Republicans there have already rejected.
“Until they send us a clean bill, we’re going to table whatever else they send us,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Senate Democrat.
It is not clear what will happen once the ball is back in the House’s court. House Republicans have shown no willingness to accept anything other than a budget that curtails elements of the health care law.
McCarthy, R-Calif., insisted that the door was open to a last-minute deal.
“We will not shut the government down,” he said. “If we have to negotiate a little bit longer, we will continue to negotiate,” perhaps with an extension of government financing that might last only a few days.
But no one, for now, appears to be negotiating, and Democrats have expressed little desire to do, despite repeated goading from Republicans who say the blame for a shutdown should thus go to the Democrats.
Cruz, the Tea Party Republican who took to the Senate floor for 21 hours last week to argue for a defunding of the health care program, said on “Meet the Press” that Reid had “essentially told the House of Representatives and the American people, go jump in a lake. He said, ‘I’m not willing to compromise; I’m not willing to even talk.’”
Cruz added: “I hope he backs away from that ledge that he’s pushing us toward. But that is his position.”
A fellow conservative Republican, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, sounded a similar note. “We are the party that’s willing to compromise,” he said on the CBS program “Face the Nation.” “They are the party that says, no way, we’re not touching Obamacare.”
Many veteran Republicans, including the party’s 2008 presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, have cautioned that the party will suffer if the government shuts down.
But in the House, Speaker John A. Boehner’s move Saturday to include provisions in the House budget that appeased the most conservative Republicans was seen as a sign that he is again allowing newer and more right-leaning members to control the agenda.
Many rank-and-file Republicans remain convinced that the public will not blame them. They cited several reasons the equation had changed since 1996, when a government shutdown helped reverse their party’s fortunes.
Part of this confidence comes from the belief that the unpopularity of the Affordable Care Act, which will go into wider effect Tuesday when people can begin signing up for insurance plans under the law, makes it easier to demand that it be delayed and defunded. They claim a mandate from the public — one, to be sure, that runs far stronger in conservative districts than it does elsewhere.
Democrats counter that the program will gain popularity as it begins to take effect, is better understood, and provides real benefits.