Republican Split Over Health Care Muddles Strategy

The difficulty in dodging a U.S. government shutdown grew yesterday as a senator pledged to start a filibuster over a temporary spending bill and the divide among Republicans over defunding President Barack Obama’s health-care law widened.

Divisions that emerged before today’s House of Representatives vote on a government funding bill led Republicans to accuse fellow Republicans of giving up their principles. Senator Ted Cruz, criticized for abandoning the cause, said yesterday he’s willing to do “everything necessary and anything possible,” including holding a filibuster.

“This is the most important fight in the country,” said Cruz, a Texas Republican. “It’s easy to focus on the political back and forth.”

In the House, Republicans said today they’d start working next week on separate legislation to increase the nation’s debt limit, and attach a one-year delay in the health law, cuts in entitlement programs, and approval for the Keystone XL pipeline.

Republicans first are using the stopgap spending measure as the vehicle to try to choke off funds for the health-care program the party has opposed since 2009. Democrats say they will strip out the defunding provision when they pass the spending measure, derailing the Republicans’ effort.

Shutdown Risk

If the Obama administration and lawmakers can’t agree on the stopgap funding, most, though not all, federal operations would come to a halt when the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.

House Republicans said the spending plan coupled with health-law defunding is meant to give the Senate’s chief opponents of the law -- Cruz of Texas and Republican Mike Lee of Utah -- an opening to vote to deny funds, while insulating House Republicans from blame.

Cruz upset his party members this week with a statement that urged House Republicans to “stand firm, hold their ground, and continue to listen to the American people,” after the Senate strips funding from the health-care law, as promised by Democrats. As he sought to appease his colleagues by saying he’d hold a filibuster, Cruz created a rift with more moderate members of his party who questioned the approach.

Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, said Cruz would put the party’s strategy in jeopardy. In a posting on his Twitter feed, Corker said: “I can count -- the defunding box canyon is a tactic that will fail and weaken our position.”

Party Dispute

Cruz would be following Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, who in March held a 13-hour filibuster delaying the confirmation vote for John Brennan to lead the Central Intelligence Agency and seeking a promise from the Obama administration that it wouldn’t use drones to target Americans on U.S. soil without an imminent threat.

Cruz’s filibuster vow fuels a growing congressional Republican dispute over how to choke off funding for the health law without shutting the government on Oct. 1.

Cruz acknowledged that he may not succeed.

“It’s not going to be a single shot” to defund the Obama health law as part of a measure to keep the government operating for 2 1/2 months after Sept. 30.

When the House measure gets to the Senate, Democratic leaders are considering a procedural tactic that would put Cruz and his allies in an awkward spot.

Under Senate rules, they could have a simple-majority vote that would strip the health-care defunding language once they end debate on the House measure.

Defunding Language

That would require Cruz to vote against the House-passed bill with the defunding language he has championed, or instead join with Democrats to overcome the procedural hurdle.

Representative Tim Griffin, an Arkansas Republican, took to Twitter saying, “so far Sen Rs are good at getting Facebook likes, and townhalls, not much else. Do something.”

Obama administration officials said yesterday the president would veto the bill if sent to him by Congress.

The Senate will pass a temporary spending measure without the health-care language, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said yesterday. That would leave Republican leaders, who have said they want to avoid shuttering the government, needing to round up votes from both parties without defunding Obama’s chief domestic-policy achievement.

The Senate is expected to start considering the spending bill on Sept. 23 with the goal of finishing by Sept. 26.

The government also is closing in on its debt ceiling. After the vote on the spending measure, members could vote as soon as next week on an increase in borrowing authority.

House Agenda

House Republicans emerged from a closed-door meeting today saying the House will start work on the debt-limit bill next week. The bill will have several attachments, Republican Representatives John Fleming of Louisiana and Duncan Hunter of California said.

The main elements are instructions to start rewriting the tax code, construction of the Keystone pipeline, a one-year delay of the health-care law, and cuts in entitlement programs such as means testing for Medicare, according to Fleming. Hunter said that leaders are also considering requests from lawmakers to include the defense budget and undo across-the-board spending cuts.

“Republicans have no interest in defaulting on our debt. None,” Boehner said yesterday. “We just want to find a way to pay it off.”

Boehner also said he won’t go to the White House to negotiate with the president on raising the debt limit.

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