House Republican leaders on Tuesday morning presented their latest proposal to raise the debt ceiling and reopen the federal government, a last-ditch effort from Speaker John Boehner to pass something out of the House and avoid getting jammed by a Senate deal that is already being dismissed by conservatives in the lower chamber.
But in a familiar twist, Boehner’s proposal — which tacks several minor policy provisions onto the Senate framework — may not satisfy a sufficient number of conservatives to pass when it comes up for a vote Tuesday night.
“We’re still talking, and we’ll see,” said Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a leading conservative who has enthusiastically supported Boehner at every turn until now.
The plan outlined by leadership at Tuesday’s closed-door GOP conference meeting builds on the Senate framework, which funds the government through Jan. 15 and extends the nation’s borrowing limit through Feb. 7. In addition, House Republicans are asking for a two-year delay of the medical device tax, and language that will ban government health care subsidies for members of Congress as well as members of the president’s cabinet.
But that final provision seemed inadequate to some conservatives, who have argued for the subsidy ban to extend to a broader swath of federal employees, including staffers on Capitol Hill. “It’s a matter of providing fairness for all Americans,” Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia said following the meeting.
As to the plan that had been outlined, Graves said, “That’s a working document. It’s not the final product.”
Boehner seemed to echo that sentiment in a post-meeting news conference. “There are a lot of opinions about what direction to go.” Boehner said. “There have been no decisions about what exactly we will do.”
Yet, despite a lack of consensus within his conference, Boehner acknowledged there is an urgent need to finalize language and move forward with a vote on Tuesday. “We’re talking with our members on both sides of the aisle to try to find a way to move forward — today,” he said
Still, even as Boehner and his leadership team attempt to cobble together a bill capable of winning conservative support and passing the lower chamber, President Obama and Democratic congressional leaders are promising that it won’t go anywhere.
“We felt blindsided by the news from the House,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor shortly after the House meeting adjourned. “Let’s be clear: The House legislation will not pass the Senate.”
Boehner’s office reacted swiftly to Reid’s remarks on the Senate floor. “Is Senator Reid so blinded by partisanship that he is willing to risk default on our debt to protect a ‘pacemaker tax’ that 34 Senate Democrats are on the record opposing, and he himself called ‘stupid’?” said Boehner spokesperson Michael Steel.
Meanwhile, the White House scheduled a mid-afternoon meeting with House Democratic leaders to mobilize against the Republican proposal. With a multitude of House Republican defections possible at tonight’s vote, the White House wants to make sure that Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi minimizes the number of Democrats who could help Boehner pass his bill.
The House proposal, White House spokesperson Amy Brundage said, represents “a partisan attempt to appease a small group of Tea Party Republicans.”
The majority of those lawmakers, however, are remaining noncommittal until they see specifics from the Rules Committee, which is convening Tuesday afternoon to iron out the precise language of the legislation.
Some Republicans, however, have already made up their mind.
“I’m a ‘no,’” said Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, who, despite being a longtime thorn in Boehner’s side, has largely followed leadership’s strategy in recent weeks. “But they’ll probably get their 218” votes, Gohmert added.
Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, a leading GOP moderate, praised Boehner’s proposal as a potential swift path to a deal in time to meet Thursday’s deadline for when the nation is expected to hit its borrowing limits.
“I think it does move the ball forward,” Dent said. He described the plan as less a competing measure to one being worked out by Senate Democratic and Republican leaders — but rather, a plan that is quite similar.
“It will set up what will be obviously a reconciliation between what the House has on the table and what the Senate has offered,” Dent said.
Indeed the plan presented Tuesday morning by Boehner to rank-and-file Republicans behind closed doors is similar in many ways to what is known about Senate bipartisan plan. The Senate measure itself appears to be a reflection of much of what was floated as a compromise late last week and over the weekend by Sens. Susan Collins, Joe Manchin, and a group of about 10 others senators.
But there are important differences. In addition to the medical device tax delay, the House bill would also eliminate a provision granted to unions in the Senate bill that would delay a tax on reinsurance that labor says would fall heavily on its members. The House plan also would have a provision requiring income verification for Obamacare subsidies, and would end the Treasury Department’s ability to exhaust “extraordinary measures” when the debt limit is approached, meaning the Feb. 7 debt ceiling date would be inflexible.
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