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(Tribune File Photo) Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, says he hasn't been contacted by investigators looking into the John Swallow scandal.
Utah congressmen dig in as government shutdown likely

First Published Sep 28 2013 10:19 pm • Last Updated Feb 14 2014 11:35 pm

Washington • An effort started by Sen. Mike Lee to halt funding for the Affordable Care Act, and the ensuing partisan bickering on Capitol Hill, is likely to result in a federal government shutdown come Tuesday.

Senate leaders are refusing to take up a measure passed by the House on Saturday to temporarily fund the government but delay the health care law for one year.

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While Republicans charged that the Democrat-run Senate should pass their bill ­— which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said is dead on arrival — the House prepared for the first government closure in 17 years by passing legislation to pay active-duty soldiers in the event the standstill continues.

All four of Utah’s congressmen, including Democrat Jim Matheson, voted for the GOP funding measure.

The Saturday showdown puts the United States on course to furlough hundreds of thousands of workers, shutter national parks and halt nonessential services after midnight Monday. A majority of the 30,000 federal employees in Utah could be told to stay home, and go unpaid, until the Washington gridlock ends.

There was no end in sight Saturday.

Reid called the House Republican’s bill "pointless" and outright objected to taking up their legislation.

"Senate Democrats have shown that we are willing to debate and vote on a wide range of issues, including efforts to improve the Affordable Care Act," Reid said. "We continue to be willing to debate these issues in a calm and rational atmosphere. But the American people will not be extorted by tea party anarchists."

Reid and Democrats, including President Barack Obama, have called out Lee and others for using the government’s budget as leverage to kill the three-year-old health care law — while Lee has used the situation to burnish his conservative credentials and raise campaign funds.

If the government closes for the first time since 1996, the confrontation began simply enough with a July 25 letter drafted by Lee.

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Several Republican senators joined Lee in agreeing they would oppose any government funding bill that included money for the health care law, known as Obama­care, a hard-line stance that resulted in back-and-forth squabbling between the House and Senate and, with both sides digging in at the last minute, an inevitable shutdown.

While Lee began the fight, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, became the public face of the "defund Obamacare" effort and the tea party pair squared off at times with their fellow Republicans, half of whom joined with Democrats to take up legislation that Lee and Cruz were trying to block.

The Senate on Friday passed a temporary funding bill that would restore money for Obamacare and promptly adjourned until Monday. Even if there were support to take up the House bill from Saturday, Senate rules would make it difficult and potentially impossible to vote on it by the Monday deadline.

Lee says he doesn’t want the government to shutter — he says it would be Democrats’ fault if it did ­— but had asked House Republicans to stand firm and not cave to Senate Democrats.

"Sitting back and doing nothing is not acceptable," Lee told a Conservative Political Action Conference in St. Louis on Friday, according to video of the event, "not when the federal government is trying to take over our health care system."

House Republicans held out hope that the Senate would act to stave off a shutdown but they also passed legislation to make sure soldiers were paid during any government closure; without that legislation, soldiers would have been required to show up but not be paid until the government is up and running again.

Rep. Chris Stewart, a Utah Republican who was making plans to furlough some of his own staff, said that vote wasn’t an acknowledgment that the government was going to close.

"I don’t think we’re saying it’s inevitable. I don’t believe it’s inevitable," Stewart said. "But I think it’s good we’re prepared for the eventuality that it might."

Matheson, who voted against the Affordable Care Act in 2010, said he backed the GOP measure because he supports a delay in the law and wants to keep the government operating.

But, Matheson said, "I’m pretty disappointed that the leadership of the House of Representatives decided to add these other provisions to the funding bill. This could very well lead to a government shut down. ... I think we deserve better political leadership from Washington."

But Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said the House legislation is something Democrats should want: it funds the government through Dec. 15 and delays the health care law so that all its kinks can be worked out.

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