House GOP to Push Budget With Defunded Health Care Law

House GOP to Push Budget With Defunded Health Care Law

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - September 18, 2013

Speaker John Boehner has decided to virtually bet the House on thrashing Obamacare in a looming fiscal showdown.

In a bow to conservatives, House Republican leaders facing a Sept. 30 deadline to avoid a government shutdown will hold a vote Friday on a three-month funding bill that would permanently drain funds from the Affordable Care Act. The move -- a gamble that the establishment wing of the GOP decried not so long ago -- nonetheless has unified the conference, according to Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor also introduced a plan to the conference Wednesday that would lift the debt ceiling (which expires in mid-October) for one year and impose a year-long delay in implementing Obamacare. It also calls for tax reform and federal approval of the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline. “That fight will continue as we negotiate the debt limit with the president and the Senate,” he said. A vote on this part of the GOP strategy is expected as early as next week.

Boehner noted Wednesday that congresses and presidents have long used the debt limit “for legislation to cut spending, and even President Obama worked with us two years ago in the debt limit negotiations to put controls on spending. This year is not going to be any different.”

With time running out and their original plan -- which would have allowed the defunding provision to be tossed out by the Senate -- exhausted, the Republican leaders had to come up with something to address the shutdown threat.

But the House could find itself back at the same place next week. The Democratic-controlled Senate won’t muster the 60 requisite votes for the move to derail President Obama’s signature piece of legislation and authorize $986 billion (extending current sequester levels) in spending. “I want to be very clear: Democrats are not going to agree to defund or delay health care reform. It’s just not going to happen,” said Senate Budget Chair Patty Murray.

Referring to the debt ceiling deadline, Obama told a Business Roundtable meeting on Wednesday that “what I will not do is to create a habit, a pattern, whereby the full faith and credit of the United States ends up being a bargaining chip to set policy.” Doug Elmendorf, the director of the Congressional Budget Office, reminded reporters at a breakfast meeting Wednesday that given the complexity of the ACA, some Obamacare provisions would remain even if Congress cut its funding.

Once the House measure reaches the upper chamber, leaders there could run out the clock and force Boehner and House Republicans into a game-time decision to keep the government running. The question is, will those Republicans choose to swallow a stopgap budget resolution without the Obamacare provision and risk waging the health care battle in the debt-ceiling negotiations?

While Sen. Ted Cruz, who has been leading the defunding effort in the upper chamber, praised the House plan, not all Senate Republicans think the strategy is sound. “Defunding Obamacare makes sense to me,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham. But “if the only way you can do that is to stop the government from functioning, that is a net loser in my point of view.” 

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to the House pushing back against the plan, urging lawmakers "to act promptly to pass a Continuing Resolution to fund the government and to raise the debt ceiling, and then to return to work on these other vital issues," wrote R. Bruce Josten, executive vice president for government affairs. 

Boehner said he would not speculate on what action the Senate will take: “The fight over here has been won. I’m not going to predict what the Senate is going to do or not do.”

But even some of the most conservative members of the House anticipate the Obamacare fight will be shifted from the budget measure to the debt ceiling settlement.

“I don’t know whether I would vote for [the continuing resolution] without the defund, but we would probably, as a baseline, have to pass it, but at the sequester levels. Then the fight is in the debt ceiling,” Louisiana Rep. John Fleming, a member of the Republican Study Committee, told RCP on his way out of the conference meeting Wednesday morning.

“We would much rather defund, but if we can’t, we want to delay” the health care law, he said.

Fleming also said he expects the speaker to ultimately bring something to the floor that has the majority of support from Republicans. “If it’s anything other than sequester[-level funding], it is going to be voted down,” he asserted. Boehner won’t likely get support from Democrats on such a resolution, as they oppose the current spending levels. House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer told reporters Tuesday that he would vote against such a measure, even if the Obamacare provision were not attached. (Democrats have proposed a $1.058 trillion resolution.)

“I think we're going to have a fight,” Hoyer said. “I think we ought to have the fight now rather than later.”

Democrats say negotiating on the debt ceiling is a non-starter. Some are willing to budge on the budget numbers, but not by much. “We want it as high as possible,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer. “We want to undo as much of sequestration as we can.” 

RealClearPolitics White House Correspondent Alexis Simendinger contributed to this report. 

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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