WASHINGTON — With the current federal fiscal year just days away from expiring, Arkansas’ four U.S. House members voted with the Republican majority Friday for legislation that would temporarily keep the government running but withhold funding for the Affordable Care Act.
House Republicans have taken dozens of votes to repeal the federal health care overhaul known as Obamacare only to see those efforts ignored by Senate Democrats. This time, they hope to put Democrats on the record again on the measure — particularly those up for re-election in 2014 and facing spirited challenges like U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark.
Shortly after approving the bill, dozens of House Republicans gathered for a news conference in an adjoining room in the Capitol where leaders stressed that the ball is now in the Senate’s court.
"I want to know where Senator Pryor stands on protecting the middle class from the consequences of this horrific law," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said to loud cheers.
Cantor noted that earlier in the summer a non-profit group in Fort Smith had decided to reduce its full-time employee hours to 28 per week as a way to avoid penalties related to the federal health care law.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee followed Cantor’s remarks with a release saying Senate Democrats like Pryor face a distinct choice — listen to their constituents and dismantle Obamacare or stand with President Obama and the unpopular law.
"Democrats ignored their constituents in 2010 and took a shellacking on Election Day, we’ll see if anything has changed," said NRSC Press Secretary Brook Hougesen.
Pryor is being challenged by U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle. Cotton voted for the GOP-led bill Friday but did not attend the rally with Cantor. He did issue a statement after the vote urging the Senate "to act responsibly and pass the legislation."
"Arkansans overwhelmingly oppose Obamacare and their voices must be heard," Cotton said.
Pryor issued a statement blasting House Republicans for acting irresponsibly.
"Today’s vote in the House of Representatives to shut down the government is irresponsible and will hurt our economy just at a time when it is beginning to turn the corner," Pryor said. "Next week, when the real work begins in the Senate, I will work in a constructive way to keep the government open and keep our economy growing."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said the Senate will not approve legislation to defund the health care law. The Senate will likely return a bill to the House that would fund the government through mid-December without attaching other policy issues.
The House, which had planned to be out on district business next week, is now scheduled to return to the Capitol on Wednesday.
Reps. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, and Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, issued statements expressing their support for the bill that would defund Obamacare.
In an interview Friday, Womack said he anticipates the Senate will reject the House bill. He said he is not sure what will transpire after that, although he indicated he could support a temporary budget extension to give the Appropriation Committee time to complete its work.