House Republicans are unlikely to blink in the standoff over Obamacare that precipitated a government shutdown, fearing that acceding now to Democratic demands for a “clean” spending bill would weaken their hand in upcoming negotiations over the the debt ceiling.
Those Republicans said Wednesday that the spending impasse that shut down the government early Tuesday is less about conservatives' desire to derail Obamacare than it is about strengthening their hand in the debt-ceiling talks. That borrowing limit must be raised by Oct. 17 to prevent the government from defaulting on its financial obligations and Republicans say any future agreement to reopen the government would link the spending bill and the debt ceiling.
“This is not just about Obamacare anymore,” centrist Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., said.
“We’re not going to be disrespected,” conservative Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., added. “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”
In the weeks leading up to Tuesday's government shutdown, House Republicans pushed for a short-term budget bill that would fund the government at current levels, but also fully and permanently defund Obamacare. President Obama and Senate Democrats rejected that proposal and three others that would have at least slowed implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
House Republicans now say they won't agree to a funding bill unless Senate Democrats agree to meet in a conference committee to hash out their differences. They rebuffed a proposal from Senate Democrats Wednesday to form a conference committee only after the funding bill was approved and the government reopened.
With the third day of the shutdown dawning and the deadline to raise the debt ceiling fast approaching, House Republican leaders believe maintaining party unity over the budget bill is paramount. Any divisions or concessions would only bolster Obama's hand in the debt ceiling talks.
House Republican leaders will drive their rank and file particularly hard to support a debt ceiling proposal that includes provisions on tax and entitlement reform and other GOP priorities. They also don't want to cut short the epic battle against Obamacare that conservatives have long sought. For those reasons, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is unlikely to put up a "clean" budget bill that funds the government without Democratic concessions.
“The [budget bill] is now part of the debt ceiling fight and we may see a shutdown that extends to mid-October,” said a veteran Republican operative with relationships on Capitol Hill. “Boehner could not pass a [budget bill] with mostly Democratic support now and then have any chance of holding Republicans on the debt ceiling.”
House GOP leaders and most of their rank and file never supported conservatives' efforts to use the budget bill and the threat of a government shutdown to defund Obamacare, fearing a political backlash. Polls consistently show most people oppose the strategy and would blame Republicans if the government closed.
But having gone as far as they have, House Republicans now say they won't back down. And they expect to score political points in the process.
Republican House leaders were surprised that Democrats unanimously opposed GOP efforts to pass small, targeted appropriations bills that would keep only parts of the government open, but they are happy to watch Democrats vote against measures that would open national parks and restore veterans' programs ahead of the 2014 elections.
Just as important, however, is the marker Boehner has laid down in this fight and how his caucus would react if he suddenly reversed course and supported a clean budget bill. Boehner originally opposed linking Obamacare to the government funding bill, but gave in to conservatives' demands. Republicans say the speaker has been forceful in closed-door meetings on the funding bill but his credibility could be indelibly damaged if he caves in to Democratic demands now.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., who is close with leadership, suggested that the House majority is prepared to hold the line on a government funding bill and the debt ceiling increase if Senate Democrats refuse to negotiate a compromise.
When asked if House Republicans would vote on a "clean" continuing resolution, he said, "Why in the world would you do that?” Cole said of the clean funding bill. “That’s basically, at this point, a surrender to the Democratic position.”