The House on Friday is expected to pass a government spending bill that eliminates funding for the new health care law, setting up a Senate showdown next week that will test the GOP's commitment to blocking Obamacare.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, signaled that he expects his Republican majority to approve the stopgap budget bill, preventing an Oct. 1 government shutdown but eliminating any funding for the implementation of Obamacare.
House Republicans are confident enough of victory that they've already scheduled a post-vote rally to celebrate it.
After that, Boehner said, it will be up to Senate Republicans to win final approval of the defunding provision in a hostile, Democratically run Senate.
"It's time for them to pick up the mantle and get the job done," Boehner said.
The Senate is expected to take up the measure next week, though the chamber's Democratic majority is virtually certain to prevent the defunding of President Obama's top legislative achievement.
"In case there's any shred of doubt in the minds of our House counterparts," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Thursday. "I want to be absolutely crystal clear. Any bill that defunds Obamacare is dead, dead. It's a waste of time."
Reid will likely add an amendment to the House measure that would remove the defunding language with the support of a simple majority instead of the 60-vote threshold required for most amendments. That would allow Democrats to strip the defunding provision without any support from Republicans.
But Reid first must find 60 votes from Democrats and Republicans to begin and end debate on the House bill. Those votes will test Republican resolve to defeat the entire budget bill — and force a government shutdown — just to defund Obamacare.
Many Republicans, including Sens. John McCain, of Arizona, Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, and Lamar Alexander, of Tennessee, said they won't risk a shutdown by blocking the spending bill, even if that means funding the implementation of Obamacare.
But Senate conservatives leading the charge to defund Obamacare said they remain hopeful that they can prevent Reid from passing a budget bill that includes the health care funding. They point to a handful of red-state Democrats who are up for re-election in 2014, including Sen. Mark Pryor, or Arkansas, and Mary Landrieu, of Louisiana, who may be wary of voting for a law that polls show is unpopular with most Americans.
"People just assume that every Democrat is going to vote for it," a senate GOP aide told the Washington Examiner. "If we force a tough vote for Democrats and they vote for it, then Reid could lose his majority because it would become the vote that everyone runs on for the next 12 months."
The House took up the budget bill Thursday, igniting a debate marked by deep partisan divisions over both the Obamacare provision and lower funding levels included in the overall Republican budget bill.
"A tantrum is being had over here on health care," Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., said.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said House Republicans were trying to block the health care law because polls show the public does not want it implemented.
"We've been told repeatedly this was some day going to become popular," Cole said. "Years have taught us that this is never going to be popular with the American people."
Republicans have capped spending in the House budget bill at $986 billion, a figure that includes the sequestration funding cuts that were the result of an earlier bipartisan deal. Democrats want to restore at least some of that funding.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said even if the budget bill retained Obamacare funding, Democrats would oppose it. Democrats want to increase overall spending to $1.057 trillion.
"We've suggested splitting the difference," Pelosi said. "That didn't seem to work so far. But obviously, we always stand ready to try to work together to reach a solution to keep government open and to raise the debt limit because of what it means to households across America. And we'll see when it comes back, but right now the mood is not favorable to a [$986 million limit]."