Inside Boehner’s Plan to Avoid Shutdown (and Wound Obamacare)

Forget Friday’s big spending-bill vote. House leaders know the Senate will reject it and are ready to respond. Here’s the GOP playbook.

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, returns to his office after speaking with reporters about the deadline to fund the government and the fight among House Republicans, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. House Republicans vowed Wednesday to pass legislation that would prevent a partial government shutdown and avoid a default while simultaneously canceling out President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, inaugurating a new round of political brinkmanship as critical deadlines approach. 
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Tim Alberta
Sept. 20, 2013, 2 a.m.

House Re­pub­lic­ans have or­ches­trated a mas­ter plan to avoid a gov­ern­ment shut­down, delay the im­ple­ment­a­tion of Obama­care, and main­tain the cur­rent, post-se­quester spend­ing levels.

But first, they need the Sen­ate to shred the very pro­pos­al that House con­ser­vat­ives have spent this week cel­eb­rat­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to sev­er­al Re­pub­lic­an law­makers and seni­or aides who de­scribed the plan on con­di­tion of an­onym­ity, a strategy is com­ing in­to fo­cus that, if prop­erly ex­ecuted, would ac­com­plish mul­tiple GOP policy ob­ject­ives in one man­euver. With the dead­line for a new con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion loom­ing on Oct. 1, and the House poised to pass a CR that will be dead on ar­rival in the Demo­crat­ic-con­trolled Sen­ate, sources are con­fid­ent the strategy can work — but only if the dom­in­oes fall in pre­cise fash­ion.

The Re­pub­lic­an plan, mol­ded by lead­er­ship and some top con­ser­vat­ives, pre­sup­poses two things: First, the House passes a CR that funds the gov­ern­ment through mid-Decem­ber while per­man­ently de­fund­ing Obama­care (Rep. Mark Mead­ows of North Car­o­lina, among oth­ers, ex­pects an “over­whelm­ing” vic­tory on the House floor Fri­day); and second, the Sen­ate promptly strips the anti-Obama­care lan­guage and sends back to the House a “clean” CR (Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, the Re­pub­lic­an ringlead­er of the anti-Obama­care drive, ac­know­ledged Wed­nes­day that the GOP pro­pos­al stands little chance in the Sen­ate).

If all goes ac­cord­ing to plan on these two fronts, the ball will be back in the House’s court, and the threat of shut­down will be less than a week away. House Re­pub­lic­ans, it has been as­sumed, will have two choices at that point: Either in­struct lead­er­ship to hold their ground and send an­oth­er anti-Obama­care CR to the Sen­ate; or ac­know­ledge their lack of lever­age and pass the clean CR, hop­ing for an­oth­er op­por­tun­ity to fight Obama­care soon there­after.

But sources fa­mil­i­ar with the plan­ning say House Speak­er John Boehner is pre­par­ing a third op­tion, one that keeps the gov­ern­ment open at post-se­quester spend­ing levels while not con­ced­ing de­feat on Obama­care. To ac­com­plish this, the Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship is plan­ning to pro­pose a debt-ceil­ing pack­age — per­haps as early as next week — that has as its center­piece a one-year delay of Pres­id­ent Obama’s health care law.

Mean­while, House lead­er­ship would sup­ple­ment the re­vised CR with some as­sort­ment of con­ser­vat­ive policy pro­vi­sions (such as a “con­science clause” for health care cov­er­age, or a veri­fic­a­tion sys­tem for in­sur­ance sub­sidies). Adding such items, the think­ing goes, would se­cure suf­fi­cient sup­port from skep­tic­al House Re­pub­lic­ans while not ant­ag­on­iz­ing enough Demo­crats to de­rail pas­sage in the Sen­ate.

Top Re­pub­lic­ans say shift­ing their anti-Obama­care ef­forts from the CR to the debt ceil­ing is smart strategy and sound polit­ics. For one thing, con­ser­vat­ives now real­ize that delay­ing Obama­care — as op­posed to re­peal­ing or de­fund­ing it — rep­res­ents their best shot at scor­ing a health care vic­tory. Also, Boehner can hon­estly tell his mem­bers that he did everything he could to de­fund Obama­care in the CR. And, at the end of the day, Re­pub­lic­ans still be­lieve their lever­age will be max­im­ized when ne­go­ti­at­ing the na­tion’s bor­row­ing lim­it.

But tim­ing is everything. If Boehner’s debt-ceil­ing plan isn’t presen­ted in close prox­im­ity to the Sen­ate’s de­feat of the House CR, Re­pub­lic­an aides worry that con­ser­vat­ives could grow rest­less and or­ches­trate an­oth­er CR battle over Obama­care. But if the debt-ceil­ing pro­pos­al is in­tro­duced just as the Sen­ate is send­ing back its clean CR, Boehner can com­bine the sep­ar­ate skir­mishes and sell his plan as a two-step solu­tion to the chal­lenge that has gal­van­ized con­ser­vat­ives: how to de­feat Obama­care without shut­ting down the gov­ern­ment.

“It’s all one battle,” said Rep. Tom Price of Geor­gia, a lead­ing House con­ser­vat­ive who is vice chair­man of the Budget Com­mit­tee.

Some de­tails of the strategy are still be­ing hashed out, and not all mem­bers are aware of the plan. But broadly speak­ing, con­ser­vat­ives seem re­cept­ive to the concept of com­bin­ing the fall’s two ma­jor fisc­al fights.

“Speak­er Boehner has said sev­er­al times that there are oth­er op­tions…. We’re listen­ing to them to see what those op­tions are,” said Rep. Raul Lab­rador, R-Idaho. Lab­rador ad­ded: “At this point we’re in a ‘trust but veri­fy’ mo­ment where we’re trust­ing our lead­er­ship [but] we’re ask­ing them to tell us what that next move is go­ing to be.”

“The goal, the ul­ti­mate out­come that we de­sire, is that the Amer­ic­an people don’t have to live un­der this law,” Price said. “Wheth­er it’s on the CR, wheth­er it’s on the debt ceil­ing, it’s all the same battle. Nobody should be wed­ded to one tac­tic to get something done.”


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