WASHINGTON — House Republicans will not simply pass a temporary spending bill from the Democratic Senate after it is shorn clean of a tea party plan to “defund Obamacare,” House Speaker John Boehner said on Thursday.
At the same time, the Ohio Republican said House GOP leaders would unveil legislation to lift the government’s borrowing cap, but only if the new health care law is delayed for a year. He defended that measure’s relatively modest spending cuts even as some rank-and-file conservatives pressed for more.
“It does not cut spending significantly. It does not fix the problem,” Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., said of the debt ceiling package. He said he was undecided about whether to support it. “We need to significantly cut federal government spending, or long-term have a balanced budget constitutional amendment.”
President Barack Obama again vowed he won’t negotiate over the debt ceiling measure.
“The entire world looks to us to make sure that the world economy is stable. You don’t mess with that,” Obama said at a community college in Largo, Md. “And that’s why I will not negotiate on anything when it comes to the full faith and credit of the United States of America.”
Pressure is building on fractious House Republicans as a partial government shutdown looms at midnight Monday if a bitterly-divided Congress can’t send a temporary spending bill to Obama on time. Republicans are breaking from longstanding tradition by trying to use the short-term spending bill to jam GOP agenda items past the Senate and Obama.
Meanwhile, the Senate trudged ahead toward a Friday vote on stripping the defund Obamacare provision from the House-passed stopgap funding bill. Boehner’s remarks mean the House will return the stopgap measure to the Senate over the weekend, but he declined to describe what measures Republicans might add to it.
A partial government shutdown would keep hundreds of thousands of federal workers off the job, close national parks and generate damaging headlines for whichever side the public holds responsible.
The timeline is daunting since delays in the Senate — where tea party favorite Ted Cruz, R-Texas, promises to filibuster any bill that doesn’t block Obamacare — could mean the first partial shutdown since the 1995-96 government closures that bruised Republicans and strengthened the hand of Democratic President Bill Clinton.
“When we send this legislation back to the House, Republicans have got to put an end to the tea party temper tantrums and pass our bill without any gimmicks and without any games,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash.
A 21-hour talkathon by Ted Cruz whipped up the GOP’s tea party wing even as it complicated efforts by House GOP leaders to assemble rank-and-file support for a temporary spending measure.
Cruz wants to derail the spending bill to deny Democrats the ability to strip out the anti-Obamacare provision, a strategy that has put him at odds with other Republicans who say the move won’t work and fear it would spark a shutdown.
Many GOP senators, including the Senate’s top two Republicans, have said they’ll vote to advance the measure rather than filibuster it to death, a vote that promises to give Democrats controlling the chamber a procedural edge in a subsequent vote to kill the tea party’s effort to use the must-pass bill to derail Obamacare.
Wednesday evening, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., unveiled his version of the stopgap spending bill, which would keep the government running through Nov. 15. He set in motion a key vote on Friday that promises to expose the divide between Cruz and more pragmatic Republicans. Senate passage of the spending bill — stripped of the Obamacare provision — was expected no later than Saturday.
The simplest thing for Republicans to do would be to accept the Senate bill and send it to the White House for Obama’s signature, a prospect that’s unappealing to Republicans because it would make them look like they’re surrendering. Boehner originally preferred a plan to deliver to Obama a stopgap funding bill without the Obamacare provisions.
Now, GOP leaders are exploring adding face-saving options — like the repeal of a tax on medical devices, which many Democrats also oppose — to the stopgap spending bill. There’s also sentiment to take away the health insurance subsidy awarded lawmakers now that they’ll be required to purchase health care on Obamacare exchanges.
The House is expected to approve a measure this week allowing the Treasury to borrow freely for another year, although that legislation, too, would include a provision to carry out the Republican campaign against Obamacare. While no final decisions have been made, party officials said a one-year delay was likely to be added, rather than the full-fledged defunding that is part of the spending bill awaiting action in the Senate.
The GOP’s demands on the debt limit involves far less dramatic spending cuts than Republicans demanded from Obama in a debt showdown two years. Then, Republicans extracted $2.1 trillion in cuts over a decade for a similar increase in the borrowing cap. Now, GOP leaders are mulling a 14-month borrowing increase that would increase the debt ceiling by almost $1 trillion but are considering only modest cuts, like an increase in the contribution federal workers make to their pensions.
Shutdown-averting stopgap spending bills traditionally have been steered clear of these kinds of battles for fear of a politically damaging shutdown. But with the new health care law poised to enroll millions of people into Obamacare starting Oct. 1, there’s a new urgency among opponents to pull out all the stops to try to derail it.