U.S House Republican leaders started this week with a strategy to appease their members and win passage of a spending bill that would avoid a federal government shutdown.
They ended the week without a vote, no plan in place and several days closer to the Oct. 1 deadline when government funding expires.
House members left Washington for the weekend yesterday after leaders shifted strategies in an effort to win over dissenting Republicans willing to risk a financial crisis to sidetrack President Barack Obama’s health-care law. Republicans said they will try to use the spending-bill talks to delay the health-care law instead of defunding it.
Senate Democrats immediately rejected that idea.
“This is not the time for political stunts,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, told reporters yesterday. Democrats will insist on a “clean” spending bill without side issues, he said.
The Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year is the “drop-dead date” to enact a spending bill, Reid said. The House and Senate are scheduled to be in session for only five days during the rest of the month. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, said yesterday the chamber may cancel a planned recess the week of Sept. 23 because of the negotiations.
The U.S. also will reach its debt ceiling as early as mid-October, requiring a congressional agreement to raise the limit.
Cantor and House Speaker John Boehner’s initial strategy would have held up a spending bill until the Senate voted on repealing the health-care law. Dozens of fellow Republicans objected because the spending bill could be passed even if, as is likely, the Senate kept funding for the health law.
House members then started talking about voting for postponing the health law instead of trying to defund it.
Among them, Representative Mike Simpson, an Idaho Republican, said members realize that “we’re better off with a delay.” The talks are centered on how to “best” delay the law, he said yesterday.
Representative Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, said postponing the health-care law would be a “good fallback.”
Another option being discussed by House Republicans is a plan to delay both the government funding and debt-ceiling fights until just before next year’s midterm election, according to two House Republican aides who asked not to be identified because the talks were private.
That would entail a one-year government spending bill, a one-year delay of the health-care law’s requirement that individuals obtain insurance, and a one-year extension of the debt ceiling, the aides said.
Obama and fellow Democrats said they won’t agree to conditions in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.
The Obama administration would consider a “clean” stopgap measure to fund the government at existing levels while budget negotiations continue, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters yesterday. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California indicated that Democrats could vote for a short-term funding bill, a move that would give Boehner enough votes to keep the government running.
The House has voted 40 times to repeal, postpone or defund all or part of the health-care law. The Senate has refused to take up almost all of those measures. The 2010 health-care law, upheld last year by the U.S. Supreme Court, is designed to expand coverage to at least 30 million people.
Boehner and Reid met yesterday with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, to discuss financing the government and raising the debt ceiling.
The Republican Study Committee, a group of lawmakers that promotes small government, this week discussed demanding a one-year delay in the health law in exchange for increasing the debt limit. Florida Republican Dennis Ross said a postponement would produce savings that could be used to cancel some of the automatic federal spending cuts that started in March.
Another variation floated by Louisiana Republican John C. Fleming would be to undo the automatic spending cuts in return for postponing the health-care law a year.
Representative Tom Graves, a Georgia Republican, introduced a spending measure for fiscal 2014 that would defund and delay the health-care law until 2015. That bill has 42 backers, including Representatives Jim Jordan and Steve Chabot of Ohio, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Gowdy.
Delaying the entire health-care law would be legislatively and practically difficult to achieve. It has many popular parts, including barring insurance companies from refusing coverage based on pre-existing conditions and permitting children to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26.
Further, many of the law’s participating programs are on funding autopilot, so Congress would have to cast at least 60 separate votes affecting such programs as Medicaid, according to one Senate Republican estimate.
The Heritage Foundation, a Washington group that promotes limited government and is headed by former Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, is paying for a billboard being installed in New York City’s Times Square this week that reads, “Warning: Obamacare may be hazardous to your health.”