House Republican leaders plan to proceed with a vote Thursday on a stopgap spending bill to keep the government operating beyond Sept. 30, and they plan to include a rare procedural maneuver to force the Senate to vote on defunding President Obama’s health care law.
The strategy being put forward by Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., is intended to satisfy conservatives who want to derail the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Some have called for Republicans to use their majority in the House to block spending bills, including so-called continuing resolutions, as leverage even if that might lead to a government shutdown.
Eighty-five House Republicans have signed a letter circulated by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., that calls for Cantor and Speaker John Boehner to “affirmatively defund the implementation and enforcement of Obamacare” in any appropriations bills. Other conservatives, such as Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, have been making similar demands.
But it does not appear likely that all of the conservatives will be satisfied by Cantor’s strategy — which would not actually force lawmakers into a stark choice of either defunding the health care overhaul or shutting down government.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., who signed Meadows’s letter, predicted Monday that there would be at least 20 votes against the rule to allow the House to proceed with such a strategy for the continuing resolution. He also said it illustrates that, for some in the House GOP ranks, “you really aren’t opposed to Obamacare; you just want to say you are.”
Passage of a CR to keep the government funded is among the key issues that lawmakers need to accomplish this month, because the House and Senate have not yet agreed on annual spending bills for the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said Monday that he hopes and expects the stopgap spending bill to be brought to the floor for a vote Thursday. He said it would keep government running through mid-December, giving lawmakers more time to negotiate a longer-term spending package.
House GOP aides say top leaders also want to make sure government spending is kept at current levels — levels that include so-called sequestration cuts to agency budgets.
The Democratic-led Senate Appropriations Committee has been writing up that chamber’s spending bills to a topline level of $1,058 trillion for the new fiscal year, on the assumption that Congress will repeal sequestration. But the GOP-led House’s CR funding would be set at a post-sequester annual level of $988 billion.
The plan for the CR is to be formally announced to members at the House Republican Conference meeting Tuesday.
It calls for the House to simultaneously vote on both the continuing resolution for government spending and a concurrent resolution that would amend the spending bill to include language on defunding the health care law. If both pass, the House would then send the defunding language to the Senate, according to a leadership aide who is familiar with the plan. The rule for the package would require that the continuing resolution itself cannot be transmitted to the Senate until the upper chamber has considered the defunding language.
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As Congress continues to bicker on riders to a continuing resolution, federal agencies have started working with the Office of Management and Budget to prepare for a government shutdown, which will occur if no continuing resolution is passed by 11:59 p.m. on Friday night. The OMB held a call with agencies on Sept. 23, one that is required one week before a possible shutdown. The government last shut down for 16 days in 2013, and multiple shutdowns have been narrowly avoided since then. It is expected that Congress will reach a deal before the clock strikes midnight, but until it does, preparations will continue.