House Republicans Ready to Retreat, Easing Shutdown Fears

Conservatives appear poised to support Boehner’s strategy of using the debt ceiling, not the CR, to fight Obamacare.

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, smiles as he leaves a news conference as Congress prepares to shut down until after the elections in November, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Sept. 21, 2012. 
National Journal
Tim Alberta
Sept. 25, 2013, 6:45 p.m.

Con­ser­vat­ive Re­pub­lic­ans in the House ap­pear ready to back off their de­mands that the short-term fund­ing res­ol­u­tion Con­gress must pass to avoid a gov­ern­ment shut­down also de­fund or delay Obama­care.

In a shift that could spare John Boehner a dam­aging up­ris­ing from his ma­jor­ity’s right wing, con­ser­vat­ives have be­gun to ac­know­ledge their lack of lever­age in the fund­ing de­bate and are now co­ales­cing around the House speak­er’s pre­ferred strategy of for­cing the White House to ac­cept health-law changes by hold­ing the debt ceil­ing host­age.

Still, Re­pub­lic­ans are search­ing for some con­ces­sions that might al­low them to es­cape the de­bate over the con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion with a scaled-down policy vic­tory.

In a private con­fer­ence call Tues­day night, talk among con­ser­vat­ives centered on us­ing the fund­ing bill to “chip away” at Obama­care rather than de­fund it en­tirely, ac­cord­ing to one seni­or GOP aide fa­mil­i­ar with the con­ver­sa­tion. “People were very cau­tious,” the aide said, not­ing the change in tone and lan­guage. “There was not an enorm­ous amount of fight from mem­bers.”

In­deed, ac­cord­ing to sev­er­al law­makers and GOP aides fa­mil­i­ar with House Re­pub­lic­ans’ re­cent strategy ses­sions, law­makers have ab­ruptly shif­ted from swinging for the fences to play­ing small ball ““ drop­ping de­mands that the bill de­fund the pro­gram and in­stead call­ing for con­ser­vat­ive policy riders to be pas­ted onto the Sen­ate CR.

“We’re closer to the dead­line, so folks start think­ing dif­fer­ently as our op­tions nar­row,” ex­plained Rep. Erik Paulsen of Min­nesota.

Boehner will out­line those re­main­ing op­tions on Thursday morn­ing, when House Re­pub­lic­ans gath­er to dis­cuss how they’ll re­spond when the Sen­ate, as ex­pec­ted, re­turns the spend­ing bill to the House with Obama­care fund­ing in­tact.

One law­maker de­scribed Boehner’s ap­proach as a “one-two punch” to de­feat the Af­ford­able Care Act.

Ac­cord­ing to GOP law­makers and aides, it in­volves adding a pack­age of con­ser­vat­ive policy pro­vi­sions to the con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion the Sen­ate ap­proves. The two like­li­est pro­vi­sions are meas­ures that re­peal the med­ic­al device tax (which en­joys some bi­par­tis­an sup­port and would rep­res­ent a sub­stant­ive blow to the law it­self) and ban sub­sidies un­der the health law for fed­er­al law­makers and their staff mem­bers (which law­makers think would earn me­dia at­ten­tion but amount to little more than a sym­bol­ic polit­ic­al vic­tory.)

While a small group of con­ser­vat­ives wants to send back to the Sen­ate a new CR that delays Obama­care for a year, law­makers know there’s no time for that if they want to avoid a shut­down. Not­ably, there seems to be no dis­cus­sion of re-in­sert­ing the ori­gin­al lan­guage to de­fund Obama­care and send­ing back to the Sen­ate the same CR it will have just re­jec­ted ““ an ap­proach some House Re­pub­lic­ans were agit­at­ing for as re­cently as last week.

The second step in Boehner’s plan in­volves the debt-ceil­ing ““ spe­cific­ally, Re­pub­lic­ans de­mand­ing a one-year delay in the im­ple­ment­a­tion of Obama­care in ex­change for ex­tend­ing the na­tion’s bor­row­ing lim­it be­fore the Treas­ury De­part­ment runs out of money to pay the coun­try’s bills on Oct. 17.

Sev­er­al in­flu­en­tial con­ser­vat­ives, led by Rep. Tom Price of Geor­gia, have been en­cour­aging their House col­leagues to ap­proach the CR and debt-ceil­ing epis­odes as two fronts in the same war against Obama­care. This would af­ford House Re­pub­lic­ans some flex­ib­il­ity to say they are at­tack­ing Obama­care from sev­er­al dif­fer­ent angles, they ar­gue, while also help­ing to save face after the Sen­ate dis­poses of their pro­pos­al to de­fund the health care law.

If Boehner can con­vince rank-and-file con­ser­vat­ives that a one-year delay of Obama­care will be the center­piece of their debt-ceil­ing plan ““ and show them le­gis­lat­ive text on Thursday ““ House aides ex­pect a ma­jor­ity of mem­bers to ac­cept de­feat on their de­fund­ing ef­fort and work quickly to­ward se­cur­ing some smal­ler, health care-re­lated con­ces­sions on the CR.

The debt-ceil­ing vote in the House is ex­pec­ted as soon as Fri­day, stra­tegic­ally timed to give Re­pub­lic­ans a vote in fa­vor of a one-year Obama­care delay be­fore vot­ing on whatever re­vised CR pro­pos­al the House pur­sues.

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