Republicans Weigh Defunding Health Law, Avoiding Shutdown

House Republican leaders are considering including a proposal to defund President Barack Obama’s health-care law in a stopgap measure to finance the U.S. government, according to lawmakers and a congressional aide.

Leaders will discuss a list of options at a meeting with House Republicans scheduled for tomorrow morning at the Capitol. The scenario they’re discussing involves a stopgap measure that defunds or delays the Affordable Care Act while financing the rest of the government agencies.

Such a measure would be stronger than Republican leaders’ proposal last week to compel the Senate to vote on defunding the health-care law without endangering money needed to keep the government running when the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1.

Representative Steve Southerland, a Florida Republican, said after a meeting with leaders today that the length of the stopgap measure, the health-care defunding portion and possibly a delay will have to be settled on this week. If differences are resolved, a vote could take place as soon as Sept. 20.

House Republican leaders are considering alternatives that would mollify those who want to defund and delay the president’s signature domestic achievement without the risk of shutting down the government after Sept. 30.

The new plan would appease those House Republicans who have pressed to defund the health-care law as part of the stopgap measure, according to a congressional aide who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record because no plan is final.

Expiring Funding

With two weeks left before government funding expires, congressional Republicans are setting up a confrontation with Obama over a provision in the health-care law that allows individuals to sign up for insurance exchanges starting Oct. 1. This clash will occur against the backdrop of a two-year battle over federal spending and revenue levels.

Leaders also are considering an option that would schedule a vote on the stopgap measure at about the same time as the decision to increase the nation’s borrowing limit, said Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican. Under that option, the debt-limit measure would include language to delay the health-care law, he said.

“It makes sense to deal with them together,” Cole said in an interview, talking about approaches that could win enough Republican votes.

Whichever scenario the Republican-led House settles on, the Democratic-led Senate is certain to alter it. The Senate then probably would send back to the House a spending measure that preserves the health law, forcing a final vote that would attract enough Republican and Democratic votes to pass.

Debt Limit

Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor have been making the case that a better venue for staging a fight over the health-care law would be legislation to authorize the debt limit. Still, dozens of Republicans don’t want to forgo the spending bill for the debt-limit debate.

The Affordable Care Act funding falls in the same category with other entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. That’s why House leaders have intensified their case to rank-and-file members that negotiations over raising the nation’s debt limit in mid-October will be a better venue for attacking the health-care law.

Congressional Republicans want to force cuts to entitlement programs in exchange for increasing borrowing authority.

Funding Strategy

“The best fight for Obamacare is the debt limit,” Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee and the Republican 2012 vice presidential nominee, said last week.

With time running short, Cantor told members last week that the House may cancel a planned recess the week of Sept. 23 to negotiate on the spending measure.

The Senate could need 60 votes to start and end debate on a stopgap measure. Procedurally, the Senate can substitute a “clean” stopgap measure that funds and continues the health-care law for the House-passed bill.

The Senate’s second-ranking Democrat, Richard Durbin of Illinois, said today that the chamber probably will pass a “clean” stopgap measure that funds the government at 2013 levels, or at about $988 billion.

“What it takes to get it through the House is not what is going to be the final deal,” Cole said today.

That means the House would have to cast another vote on what the Senate sends back. Boehner of Ohio would be able to pass the Senate’s measure with a majority of the chamber’s 233 Republicans and some Democrats to keep the government running after Sept. 30.

‘Absurd Quest’

Republicans are “on an absurd quest to undo” the 2010 health-care law though it is the “law of the land,” Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said today on the Senate floor. “It’s time to move on to something else,” he said.

Reid also criticized Republican efforts in the Senate to dismantle the law, calling a proposal offered by Louisiana’s David Vitter “hypocritical and mean-spirited.” The Senate could vote as soon as today on Vitter’s plan to curb subsidies for members of Congress and their staffs who will receive insurance through state-level health-care exchanges created by the law.

The House leaders’ initial strategy last week would have held up a spending bill until the Senate voted on defunding 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.

Graves Proposal

A plan offered by Representative Tom Graves, a Georgia Republican, has picked up 70 backers including Representatives Jim Jordan and Steve Chabot of Ohio, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Mike McCaul of Texas, Jack Kingston of Georgia and Trey Gowdy of South Carolina.

Graves’s bill is a spending measure for fiscal 2014 that would defund and delay the health-care law until 2015.

Another option House Republicans are weighing is delaying both the government funding and debt-ceiling fights until just before next year’s congressional elections, 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. The U.S. will reach its debt ceiling as soon as mid-October.

Obama and fellow Democrats said they won’t agree to conditions in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.

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