Some of House Speaker John Boehner’s fiercest conservative critics emerged from Wednesday morning’s GOP Conference meeting visibly elated, heaping praise on Boehner and his leadership team for their politically risky proposal to temporarily fund the government while permanently defunding Obamacare.
“I think our leadership has got it just right,” said Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who during the previous Congress often clashed with Boehner while leading the Republican Study Committee. Asked whether conservatives are pleased with Boehner’s plan, Jordan replied, “Oh, yeah. Heck, yeah.”
“Everything I heard in there was very positive,” said Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, who voted against Boehner in January’s leadership elections.
Added Rep. Matt Salmon of Arizona: “I think it’s the best plan I’ve heard in a long time.”
Enthusiasm on the Right is seemingly justified. The proposal laid out by Boehner on Wednesday morning gives conservatives almost exactly what they’ve been asking for: A short-term continuing resolution (this one expires Dec. 15); an extension of current, post-sequester spending levels ($986.3 billion, to be exact); and a promise to permanently remove funding for the Affordable Care Act (a memo from leadership says the CR language will “permanently and fully defund Obamacare spending through prohibiting discretionary and mandatory spending and rescinding all unobligated balances”).
The funding proposal also incorporates the Full Faith and Credit Act, which leadership says would require the Treasury Department “to make good on public debt payments should America reach the debt ceiling.” At the same time, it sets the table for a forthcoming GOP debt-ceiling proposal—perhaps arriving as early as next week—that will target longtime goals, such as entitlement reforms, the Keystone Pipeline, and, of course, defunding the Affordable Care Act.
“This is a victory for the American people,” said Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia, who provided Boehner a blueprint with a bill that would fund the government for fiscal 2014 while delaying and defunding Obamacare until 2015. Graves, whose measure had attracted upwards of 70 conservative cosponsors, said Boehner’s leadership team “was very receptive” to his ideas after their plan dissolved late last week.
Boehner’s decision to back a spending bill that defunds President Obama’s signature domestic achievement shifts the focus to the Senate, where Democrats could be forced to take a vote on the divisive health care law. “I think this is going to be critical to finally force the Senate to vote on a delay of Obamacare,” said Rep. Steve Scalise, chairman of the Republican Study Committee.
With a Democratic majority in the upper chamber, however, and Obama already vowing to defeat any attempt to defund the health care law, it seems highly unlikely that this House proposal will accomplish anything other than uniting conservatives and shifting focus to the Senate—all while taking Congress one step closer to a government shutdown.
But in the ruthless realm of internal GOP politics, the anti-Obamacare proposal achieves what Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin called a “unifying” purpose. Namely, it puts Boehner on the same page with his conservative members, some of whom have openly questioned whether the speaker has the stomach for fighting over Obamacare with a government shutdown on the line.
“Today I heard a resolve in the speaker’s voice,” said Salmon. “Strategies come and go, but we want results. We’ve got a very short window to stop this thing from being implemented. Today I heard in the speaker’s voice a commitment—and a plan—to do that. And I’m excited.”
Even members who have been consistently critical of Boehner’s team—such as Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas—walked away from Wednesday’s meeting feeling good about leadership’s plan. “It’s a very good sign; it’s a sign that they’re listening,” he said.
Huelskamp, who on Tuesday “guaranteed” that a Graves-style plan would win 218 Republican votes on the House floor, stood by that prediction Wednesday. “I think so,” he said. “You put it on the floor, I think we all have to vote for it—unless someone says it doesn’t go far enough, long enough, or deep enough.”
Of course, there are those members, too. “I can’t support proposed CR,” Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan wrote on Twitter soon after the summit adjourned. “It’s a #StealthDebtLimitHike; it exempts interest from debt limit, effectively raising debt limit permanently.”