Republican leaders in the House of Representatives on Wednesday postponed consideration of a plan to thwart "Obamacare" health reforms and pass a stop-gap government funding measure until at least next week amid strong opposition from party conservatives.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor had included a vote on a "continuing resolution" spending measure on his legislative schedule for later this week. But an email notice sent to House Republicans on Wednesday said that House leaders "do not expect to consider a vote on the CR this week."
The delay comes as Congress is racing against a Sept. 30 deadline to pass new funding legislation. Without this, government agencies and programs would be forced to shut down on Oct. 1.
“You know how we stumbled into World War I?” Representative Gerald Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, said in an interview. “I don’t think there is any design to have a government shutdown, but I think right now Cantor and company risk stumbling into a government shutdown.”
Many conservative Republicans have said the spending plan, floated on Tuesday, would result in a "trick" vote that would fail to meet their goal of withholding money to implement key parts of President Barack Obama's signature healthcare reform law. Instead, they say the vote would ultimately allow for passage of a stop-gap spending bill, healthcare funds and all.
Representative Raul Labrador, an Idaho Republican, said in an interview today that leaders are making the case for their strategy to rank-and-file members. He said he doesn’t support the plan because he’s “not sure” what the “end game” is.
Republicans must stay unified “because we have a long way to go still,” Representative James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican, said in an interview. “We have a lot of other issues. There’s the debt ceiling. If we start off divided, it doesn’t help us as we go from there.”
Representative Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, said he supports the leaders’ plan.
“The best fight for Obamacare is on the debt limit,” Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, told reporters yesterday.
Boehner and Cantor, a Virginia Republican, said they will try to force the Democratic-led Senate to vote on defunding Obama’s health-care law before the House will agree to enact a measure funding the government until mid-December.
“Our goal here is not to shut down the government,” Boehner of Ohio told reporters in Washington yesterday. “Our goal is to cut spending and to stop Obamacare.”
The House leaders’ plan hasn’t received the backing of rank-and-file House Republicans, many of whom want a binding measure to eliminate money for the Affordable Care Act. The House plan would allow a short-term spending bill to be enacted even if the Senate voted not to strip health-care funds.
Some House Republicans complained that the legislative vehicle was merely symbolic because rejection of the provision to defund the health-care law wouldn’t derail passage of the stopgap spending bill.
“All it does is force the Senate to do an up or down vote. But it’s not going to change anything,” Louisiana Representative John Fleming, a Republican, said in opposing the plan. “It’s all just a show to get us voting one way or another but not really attempting in a serious way to achieve the goal” of blocking the health law, he said.
The House leaders’ efforts will be complicated by widespread opposition from Democrats. House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, who previously endorsed the concept of a stopgap spending bill at the current level, said yesterday he is urging colleagues to oppose the bill. House Democrats have called for Congress to replace across-the-board budget cuts that have significantly reduced government spending.
Second-ranking Senate Democrat Richard Durbin of Illinois dismissed the Republicans’ strategy yesterday.
“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 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. The 2010 health-care law, upheld last year by the U.S. Supreme Court, is designed to expand coverage to at least 30 million people.
Congressional leaders of both parties plan to meet tomorrow to discuss government finances and the U.S. debt ceiling. The U.S. is projected to reach its debt limit as early as mid- October.
The U.S. will lack enough money to pay its bills sometime between Oct. 18 and Nov. 5, according to a Bipartisan Policy Center analysis released yesterday. At the end of August, the U.S. had another $108 billion in so-called extraordinary measures, such as not reinvesting certain employee retirement payments, available to cover spending in excess of revenue.
The volatility of tax revenue makes it difficult to predict the exact date the government won’t be able to pay its bills, the center’s report said.
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 exhaust borrowing authority in mid-October. At that point the government would have about $50 billion in remaining cash that would be “insufficient to cover net expenditures for an extended period of time,” Lew wrote.
Representative Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican and chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said he supports the leaders’ strategy because it satisfies members’ need for up-or- down votes on the spending and health-care measures.
Rogers late yesterday introduced the stopgap measure at a yearly funding level of $986.3 billion, slightly lower than the current $988 billion.
Asked whether it would have enough support to pass, Rogers said, “we’ll see.”
Eighty House Republicans had urged their leaders to support defunding the health-care law as part of the stopgap spending measure. That number is short of a “majority of the majority” that is usually the benchmark for consensus among the chamber’s 233 Republicans.
© Copyright 2014 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.