WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders said Tuesday they will try to force the Democratic-led Senate to vote on defunding President Barack Obama’s health-care law before the House will agree to enact a stopgap government-funding measure.
“Our goal here is not to shut down the government,” House Speaker John Boehner told reporters in Washington. “Our goal is to cut spending and to stop Obamacare.”
Boehner said he wants to send a bill eliminating funds for the health-care law to the Senate and “force them to actually have a vote on getting rid of Obamacare.”
Second-ranking Senate Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois dismissed the strategy.
“This will be the 41st, I believe, futile House vote on Obamacare,” Durbin said in an interview at the Capitol. “The speaker obviously thinks that it serves his purposes within his caucus, but it’s clearly a non-starter in the Senate.”
The House leaders’ plan also hasn’t yet received the backing of rank-and-file House Republicans, many of whom want a binding measure to eliminate funding for the Affordable Care Act. The House plan would allow a short-term spending measure to be enacted even if the Senate voted not to strip health-care funding.
“We will send to the Senate the provision which says, up or down, are you for defunding Obamacare or not?” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, told reporters today. “It’s time for the Senate to stand up and tell their constituents where they stand on this atrocity of a law.”
Congressional leaders of both parties plan to meet Sept. 12 to discuss government funding and the U.S. debt ceiling. Congress must enact a spending measure to keep the government operating beyond the end of September. The U.S. is projected to reach its debt limit in mid-October.
Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said party leaders will be assessing members’ support of the plan to pair the health-care and spending-bill votes. Rogers, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said he supports the strategy because it satisfies members’ needs for up-or-down votes on both measures.
Asked whether it would have enough support to pass, Rogers said, “we’ll see.”
Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., said lawmakers were “just listening” to the leadership’s plan and he didn’t take a position. “I’ll do everything I can to stop Obamacare from going into place,” he said.
Several Republicans expressed opposition because they said they see the strategy as non-binding.
“Every member of the conference said they’re going to do everything they can to defund Obamacare, and our leadership said in there they know this strategy will not defund Obamacare,” Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., said in an interview.
Michigan Republican Justin Amash said in a message posted on Twitter : “I do not support the hocuspocus plan that doesn’t really defund Obamacare.”
The White House and lawmakers in Congress haven’t come up with a compromise to keep the government running and avoid a rerun of previous showdowns over the debt limit.
Senate Majority Harry Reid sent a letter to Boehner, an Ohio Republican, requesting the Sept. 12 meeting with all four leaders, according to a congressional aide who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly because the letter wasn’t released. The two will meet with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, aides said.
The House has voted 40 times to repeal, delay or defund all or part of the health-care law. The Senate has refused to take up almost all of those measures. About 80 House Republicans insist on stripping the funding as a condition of enacting a spending bill to keep the government operating after Sept. 30.
The stopgap funding measure probably would maintain spending at about the current annualized rate of $988 billion from Oct. 1, when the new government fiscal year begins, through Dec. 15, said two congressional aides who sought anonymity to discuss the proposal.
White House officials and House Republicans have said they are determined not to allow a default on U.S. government debt. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in an Aug. 26 letter to Boehner that the government would have difficulty functioning on tax revenue of about $50 billion a day.
That’s because the government must make 80 million payments each month to pay Social Security recipients and military personnel as well as other obligations such as Medicare reimbursements to doctors and hospitals, Lew said.
The 80 House Republicans who signed a letter last month urging their leaders to support defunding the health-care law are short of a “majority of the majority” that is usually the benchmark for consensus among the chamber’s 233 Republicans.
A vote on the temporary spending legislation is set for later this week, according to a legislative schedule posted on Cantor’s website.
— With assistance from James Rowley, Richard Rubin and Derek Wallbank in Washington.