Republicans Seek to Avoid Shutdown by Starving Health Law
House Republicans could vote as soon as today on a spending plan that seeks to avoid a looming government shutdown by giving party members a chance to deny funds for President Barack Obama’s health-care law.
The measure is sure to be rejected by the Democratic-led Senate, yet represents an effort by House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor to gain support for a spending bill to keep the government open. It’s the party’s first step in negotiations with the Senate and White House, and risks ending with a shutdown. Obama administration officials said today the president would veto the bill if backed by Congress.
The Senate is almost certain to pass a temporary spending measure without the health-care language. That would leave Republican leaders -- who have said they want to avoid shuttering the government -- needing to round up votes from both parties for the measure without defunding Obama’s chief domestic-policy achievement.
“There should be no conversation about shutting the government down. That’s not the goal here,” Boehner, an Ohio Republican, told reporters yesterday. “ There’s no interest on our part in shutting the government down.”
Boehner, of Ohio, failed to persuade his caucus to support a spending measure without ending funds for the health-care law.
House Republicans say the plan is meant to give Republicans Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, chief Senate critics of the law, an opening to defund it, while insulating House Republicans from blame.
“The Senate Republicans have certainly made that as a marker so we’re trying to provide them the opportunity to do what they are calling to do,” Representative Richard Nugent, a Florida Republican, said in an interview.
Republicans will seek the votes of Democrats for the plan that the Senate probably will send back to the House without the health-care provision, Nugent said.
“It will be up to House Democrats to chip in then,” he said.
The House measure would expire Dec. 15 while discretionary and mandatory spending on the health law would end permanently. The measure also would include a provision to prioritize U.S. debt payments in the event of a standoff on the borrowing limit.
The House vote is scheduled with the deadline for reaching a budget deal 12 days away and the government closing in on its debt ceiling. After the vote on the spending measure, members next week could vote on an increase in borrowing authority.
House leaders canceled a planned one-week work period in their districts.
Republican legislation to raise the debt ceiling will include a one-year delay of the health law, a “path forward” on revamping the U.S. tax code and the approval of TransCanada Corp. (TRP)’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, told reporters yesterday.
The bill also would include possible cuts to entitlement programs, according to Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican.
In anticipation of a possible shutdown, the Obama administration is urging agencies to prepare as the president yesterday told business executives that Republicans are holding the budget hostage as part of an “ideological fight.”
Congress hasn’t passed a budget for the year starting Oct. 1. If the White House and lawmakers can’t agree on stopgap funding, most, though not all, operations would come to a halt.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said the chamber would wait until the House passes a measure before acting. Democrats have said they won’t defund the health-care law. The Senate is expected to start considering the spending bill on Sept. 23 with goal of finishing by Sept. 26.
“I only hope the anarchists in the House of Representatives come to their senses before it’s too late,” Reid said on the Senate floor today.
Obama appealed to members of the Business Roundtable yesterday to use their influence with lawmakers to break the stalemate.
“You have never seen, in the history of the United States, the debt ceiling, or the threat of not raising the debt, being used to extort a president or a governing party and trying to force issues that have nothing to do with the budget and have nothing to do with the debt,” Obama said in Washington.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce urged House members in a letter yesterday not to risk a government shutdown and to raise the debt limit in a “timely manner.”
“It is not in the best interest of the U.S. business community or the American people to risk even a brief government shutdown that might trigger disruptive consequences or raise new policy uncertainties washing over the U.S. economy,” Bruce Josten, the chamber’s executive vice president for government affairs, wrote in the letter.
Representative Charles Boustany, a Louisiana Republican, said the party is trying to maximize its leverage for the debt ceiling fight.
“You go into that discussion and try to get as much as we can, with divided government,” he said.
Several Republicans, who last week opposed the leaders’ plan to force the Senate to vote on a resolution that would end funding for the health law, now back the latest plan.
“This would be the first time in two years and nine months I actually get to vote for defunding on a must-pass legislation,” Representative Tim Huelskamp, a Kansas Republican, said yesterday. “Almost all Republicans” would vote for the plan, he said. Those who don’t “would be those who want a primary opponent in the next election. I don’t think anybody wants to do that too badly.”
Heritage Action, the advocacy arm of the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based research institution led by former Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, yesterday endorsed the House’s plan to fund the government and defund the health law.
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