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Obama strikes back at Congress: 'They're focused on trying to mess with me'

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Courtesy NBC News

By Michael O'Brien , Political Reporter, NBC News

President Barack Obama excoriated Congress for being "focused on trying to mess with me," hours after the Republican House approved a stopgap spending measure to continue government operations, but also eliminate funding for "Obamacare."

The president angrily lashed out at lawmakers who voted largely on party-lines hours earlier to take aim at the signature domestic accomplishment of his first term, the GOP's opening gambit in a fiscal standoff with just days to go until the government runs out of money. 

"They're focused on politics; they're focused on trying to mess with me," Obama told a crowd at a Ford plant in Kansas City. "They're not focused on you."

The public battles came 10 days before the deadline at which the government will run out of money, causing a myriad of federal services to cease. Republicans were unable to advance legislation to preserve government operations without including the provision to eradicate the Affordable Care Act as a way to entice conservatives.

But the measure faces almost certain doom in the Senate, where Democrats have said they would vote to restore funding for the health care overhaul. And even if they were to fail, Obama has flatly promised to veto the bill.

If no resolution is reached, a shutdown threatens to harm the economy and place scores of government workers out of work for an undetermined period of time. Wall Street appeared unconcerned by the developments, though, expecting lawmakers to reach an 11th-hour accord as they have in virtually every previous showdown.

Complicating matters is the manner in which the fiscal deadline has split Republicans. On one side are conservatives, who wish to use the specter of a shutdown as leverage to force concessions on Obamacare. On the other side is a group of pragmatists, who regard the odds of repealing Obamacare as extremely unfavorable, and fear the political fallout associated with a shutdown. 

"Our message to the United States Senate is very simple: the American people don't want the government shut down, and they don't want Obamacare," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told cheering colleagues after the vote.

With no solution on the horizon, the nation's capital braced for a tense series of days as Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress must work to find a workable solution with the badly-divided Republicans.

Those internal GOP divisions have spilled into public view in recent days, with barbs directed toward Sen. Ted Cruz, the figurehead of the effort to defund Obamacare, after the Texas Republican conceded he lacked the votes to make good on his threat to stop Obamacare in the Senate.

Cruz only turned up the pressure on the Republican-led House, thereby putting House Republicans in a more difficult position once the legislation inevitably returns to them. 

In that sense, Friday's vote was a bid by some Republicans to go through pained motions to demonstrate to the party's conservative grassroots that the strategy favored by Cruz and other hard-liners was doomed, and would risk a government shutdown that could turn politically dangerous for the GOP.

"It's something we have to do. It's a step in the right direction," Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said ahead of Friday's House vote. "And hopefully it will be a major step in letting people know that Ted Cruz is a fraud and and he'll no longer have any influence in the Republican Party."

As an implicit acknowledgement that its work had not yet wrapped up, the House has canceled a planned recess next week in anticipation of the frenetic work it will take to cobble together a compromise to keep the government open that can win the support of Congress.

More gravely, Congress faces a deadline sometime next month to authorize the government to borrow more money to finance its existing obligations. Even if lawmakers assemble a compromise that averts a shutdown, the prospect of defaulting on the national debt awaits them. 

Obama said that if a default were to come to pass, then, "Basically, America becomes a deadbeat."

The terms of that debate are still unclear. Republicans met Friday morning to discuss their strategy in that fight, and have long signaled they might seek a more modest, one-year delay of "Obamacare" in exchange for raising the debt limit.

In the short-term, though, action will next shift to the Senate, where Democrats command a majority of votes. The upper chamber is expected to strip any measure to undermine the Affordable Care Act from the House-passed bill, though that has invited a filibuster threat from some hard-lined conservative senators.

If history is any guide, several Senate Republicans -- some of whom have openly disparaged the effort to use the threat of a government shutdown as leverage to defund Obamacare -- may work to assemble a compromise spending measure to send back to the House. That could provide the contours of an eventual agreement.

Still, "Obamacare" -- the issue which once united Republicans, and helped fuel the party's victory in the 2010 midterm elections -- has now morphed into somewhat of a boondoggle for the party.

The GOP's strident opposition to "Obamacare" has been well-established for years. The House has voted 40-some times to do away with either part or the entirety of the law since the GOP took power in 2011, each time having seen Senate Democrats dismiss their efforts.

NBC News' Frank Thorp contributed to this report.

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