House GOP Plays Hardball on Obamacare, but Next Steps Remain Unclear

A continuing resolution that defunds the health care law is bound to return to the House. What will happen next seems unknown to everyone.

Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., leads a news conference with fellow conservative Congressional Republicans who persuaded the House leadership to include defunding the Affordable Care Act as part of legislation to prevent a government shutdown, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
National Journal
Sophie Novack
Sept. 19, 2013, 3:51 p.m.

When asked at a Her­it­age Found­a­tion event on Thursday what the House strategy would be if the Sen­ate re­jects House Re­pub­lic­ans’ con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion that de­funds Obama­care, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, ref­er­enced New Eng­land Pat­ri­ots coach Bill Be­lichick. “Even Be­lichick doesn’t script the whole game,” he said. “We’re fo­cused on the vote to­mor­row; “¦ what hap­pens down the road, we’ll see.”

The prob­lem with the sports meta­phor — be­sides the fact that we’re talk­ing about the U.S. gov­ern­ment, eco­nomy, and health care sys­tem, not the out­come of a foot­ball game — is that un­like the Pat­ri­ots, House Re­pub­lic­ans do know how the oth­er team is go­ing to play. What doesn’t seem to be scrip­ted is what the House Re­pub­lic­an strategy will be when the Sen­ate in­ev­it­ably punts the CR back to them.

Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., a main con­trib­ut­or to the House bill, agreed with Jordan’s as­sess­ment, say­ing the ques­tion in­volved too many hy­po­thet­ic­als. “In the next 11 days, we’re go­ing to stay fo­cused on our ob­ject­ive.”

In real­ity though, the way those 11 days will un­fold is largely scrip­ted. We know that the House plans to vote on a bill to con­tin­ue fund­ing the gov­ern­ment but de­fund­ing the health care law Fri­day. The bill is destined for fail­ure in the Sen­ate; Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id said Thursday, “Any bill that de­funds Obama­care is dead. Dead.” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, angered many Re­pub­lic­ans Wed­nes­day when he ad­mit­ted he did not have enough votes to pass the de­fund­ing bill in the Sen­ate. “Harry Re­id will no doubt try to strip the de­fund lan­guage from the con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion, and right now he likely has the votes to do so,” he said in a state­ment. “At that point, House Re­pub­lic­ans must stand firm, hold their ground, and con­tin­ue to listen to the Amer­ic­an people.”

A Sen­ate CR that elim­in­ates the de­fund­ing pro­vi­sion would then have to be sent back the House. What re­mains un­clear — and what seems to be un­clear to House Re­pub­lic­ans as well — is what their next move would be.

Pushed to con­sider the seem­ingly in­ev­it­able hy­po­thet­ic­al, Rep. Raul Lab­rador, R-Idaho, re­fused to go in­to spe­cif­ics. “Speak­er [John] Boehner said there are oth­er op­tions,” he said. “I’m not go­ing to lay them all out on the table right now.”

Con­ser­vat­ive mem­bers of the House main­tain that it is up to Re­id and Pres­id­ent Obama to make the next play. But with the Sen­ate po­s­i­tion clear, and Obama’s veto threat already stated, what re­mains un­clear is what the House plans to do next.

With time run­ning out to avoid a gov­ern­ment shut­down, House Re­pub­lic­ans should really start prac­ti­cing their two-minute drill.

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