House Republicans to Caucus on Impending Budget Crunch

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, and the House GOP leadership meet with small business leaders at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012.
National Journal
Billy House
Sept. 17, 2013, 6:08 p.m.

House Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers, thrash­ing around to find some con­sensus in their party on how to keep the gov­ern­ment op­er­at­ing bey­ond the end of the month, head in­to a pivotal closed-door meet­ing with mem­bers Wed­nes­day morn­ing to pitch op­tions.

One of their pro­pos­als, ac­cord­ing to House GOP sources, will be to al­low the House to vote as early as Fri­day on a meas­ure that would keep the gov­ern­ment fun­ded past the end of the cur­rent fisc­al year on Sept. 30 — and through Dec. 15 — but would also in­clude a pro­vi­sion to delay or de­fund Pres­id­ent Obama’s na­tion­al health care pro­gram.

However, be­cause Demo­crats in both the House and Sen­ate have said they will flatly re­ject that plan, House Speak­er John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor, R-Va., will also lay out some fall­back op­tions for mem­bers who won’t back down in their quest to end Obama­care.

Those are likely to in­clude link­ing a bill to de­fund the health care law to the up­com­ing debt-ceil­ing fight. The Treas­ury De­part­ment pro­jects that the gov­ern­ment will reach its cur­rent $16.7 tril­lion bor­row­ing lim­it in mid-Oc­to­ber.

The threat of a de­fault is seen as po­ten­tially a bet­ter av­en­ue of lever­age against Obama­care — and one that does not risk a gov­ern­ment shut­down and the po­ten­tial res­ult­ing pub­lic back­lash. “I think the [best] play is in the debt ceil­ing — be­cause there’s no shut­down,” said Rep. John Flem­ing, R-La.

De­tails of the ap­proach, in­clud­ing how much Re­pub­lic­ans would be will­ing to raise the debt ceil­ing in re­turn for cuts in Obama­care, were not settled on Tues­day.

“No de­cisions have been made, or will be made, un­til House Re­pub­lic­an mem­bers meet and talk to­mor­row,” Boehner spokes­man Mi­chael Steel said Tues­day.

Word that Boehner will likely of­fer a vote on de­fund­ing Obama­care as part of a meas­ure that would con­tin­ue gov­ern­ment spend­ing through Dec. 15 at an an­nu­al­ized rate of $986.3 bil­lion — just un­der the cur­rent level and with the se­quest­ra­tion cuts in­cluded — ap­pears to be a re­cog­ni­tion that con­ser­vat­ives have be­come more uni­fied in their de­mands.

What hap­pens if the House passes such a bill is any­one’s guess. One House lead­er­ship aide said the meas­ure likely would be re­vised in the Sen­ate and stripped of at least the Obama­care pro­vi­sions, then sent back to the House. There also could be a back-and-forth on the fund­ing level. “Get the ping-pong rack­ets out,” the aide re­marked.

As of Tues­day, nearly one-third of the 233 mem­bers of the House Re­pub­lic­an Con­fer­ence — 70 in all — had signed on to a bill that would fund most gov­ern­ment func­tions through fisc­al 2014 at a post-se­quester level of $967.4 bil­lion. The meas­ure would do so only on the con­di­tion that full im­ple­ment­a­tion of the health care law was delayed un­til 2015.

The op­tion to be floated will some­what re­flect that bill, au­thored by Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., though it would only con­tin­ue fund­ing the gov­ern­ment un­til Dec. 15. That could al­low more ne­go­ti­at­ing time on a lar­ger om­ni­bus pack­age for the rest of the fisc­al year that be­gins Oct. 1. But any ma­jor break by the lead­ers away from oth­er as­pects of the Graves pro­pos­al now em­braced openly by so many con­ser­vat­ives could leave them sig­ni­fic­antly short of votes to pass what they want.

More cer­tain is that House Demo­crats — a source of votes that Boehner and Can­tor might con­ceiv­ably be able to tap to pass a bill and pre­vent a shut­down — are de­term­ined to re­ject any lan­guage that tar­gets Obama­care.

Some Demo­crat­ic lead­ers, in­clud­ing House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi of Cali­for­nia, have opened the door to pos­sibly ac­cept­ing a so-called “clean” con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion for just a few weeks that would main­tain the cur­rent post-se­quest­ra­tion $986.3 bil­lion level — provided the Obama­care-delay lan­guage was stricken.

But oth­er Demo­crats would not go along. House Minor­ity Whip Steny Hoy­er, D-Md., on Tues­day re­it­er­ated to re­port­ers that he would vote against a CR that con­tained the Re­pub­lic­ans’ bot­tom line, say­ing that it really rep­res­ents “no com­prom­ise” on the part of the ma­jor­ity party.

Hoy­er went on to say that the GOP plan main­tains se­quest­ra­tion cuts and that House Re­pub­lic­ans should be forced to move closer to the topline fig­ure be­ing pro­posed by Sen­ate Demo­crats in their 2014 ap­pro­pri­ations bills: $1.058 tril­lion, which would re­flect Demo­crat­ic calls for a re­peal of se­quest­ra­tion.

“I’ve made it pretty clear; I think we’re go­ing to have a fight. I think we ought to have the fight now rather than later,” Hoy­er told re­port­ers when asked if he’d hold that po­s­i­tion even at the risk of a gov­ern­ment shut­down.

“I don’t think the length of the CR is the key. I have not seen any Re­pub­lic­an flex­ib­il­ity over the last two-and-a-half years. I have no reas­on to be­lieve there would be 14 days from now,” said Hoy­er. He ad­ded that he be­lieves the short­er the length of the CR, “the more un­der­min­ing the con­fid­ence, the more dis­rup­tion of the eco­nomy, the more trau­mat­ic to people work­ing for the gov­ern­ment, work­ing with the gov­ern­ment, con­tract­ors, sub­con­tract­ors.”

Mean­while, as Re­pub­lic­ans pre­pared to meet Wed­nes­day, even key com­mit­tee lead­ers such as House Ap­pro­pri­ations Chair­man Har­old Ro­gers, R-Ky., said they wer­en’t sure what ex­actly Boehner and Can­tor would pro­pose. “I think they’ve got some ideas “¦ and hope­fully someone will pull a rab­bit out of the hat,” said House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man Buck McK­eon, R-Cal­if.

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