House Republicans drafting legislation to raise the debt ceiling are intent on forcing President Obama to the negotiating table and satisfying conservatives' desire to wage a high-stakes battle over Obamacare.
The package that House GOP leaders plan to unveil when their members return to Washington late Wednesday will be anchored by proposals to simultaneously raise the federal borrowing limit and delay for a year further implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Additionally, the legislation would likely include a collection of previously introduced bills popular among House Republicans and difficult for Obama to dominate, including construction of the job-rich Keystone XL pipeline.
The debt-ceiling package, set for a House vote by week's end, could include a variety of GOP-friendly economic proposals, including tax reform, Medicare means testing, medical liability reform, an overhaul of the federal employee retirement system, elimination of the Dodd-Frank bailout, the easing of Environmental Protection Agency rules, restrictions on federal regulators and an expansion of offshore energy production.
Republicans are hoping that a small band of conservatives pushing to defund Obamacare -- and risking a government shutdown to achieve that -- will agree to postpone the health care fight once the Democratic Senate strips their defunding provision from the House-passed budget bill. Voters only mildly support raising the nation's borrowing limit and this route could offer Republicans more leverage to extract concessions, particularly since Obama is refusing to negotiate over the debt ceiling.
“There’s more leverage on the debt ceiling,” conceded Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., who is nonetheless committed to pushing for the full and permanent defunding of Obamacare through current budget negotiations.
“I hope people are coming to the realization that shutting down the government is not going to stop Obamacare,” a senior House Republican added.
Brinksmanship creates risks regardless of which path House Republicans choose — defunding or delay — in their quest to block implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s prized legislative achievement.
But extensive polling reveals that most voters are likely to blame Republicans if the government shuts down next Tuesday because of a disagreement over Obamacare funding. Further, surveys also show that while the Affordable Care Act is unpopular with the public, voters don't support shutting down the government to stop it.
If Congress fails to raise the $16 trillion debt ceiling before mid-November, the federal government would for the first time default on its financial obligations.
Obama has already declared that he will not negotiate with Republicans over raising the debt ceiling, a hard-line approach that could strengthen the position of House Republicans, particularly if they attach to the debt ceiling bill other measures popular with the public.
How House Republicans will proceed on the current budget talks remains unclear. The Senate this week is expected to strip the Obamacare defunding provision from the budget bill approved by the House. That means Republicans would have to decide whether to continue to press the health care fight now, and risk a government shutdown, or agree to fund the government now and put the Obamacare fight off until debt ceiling negotiations begin in earnest.
But House Republicans are likely to vote on their debt ceiling package before they have to decide their next move on the budget bill. And, neither the House GOP leadership, nor rank and file members, expect the GOP to be as divided over debt ceiling negotiations as they are now over the budget bill and Obamacare strategy.
Given that Obama has delayed parts of his health care law already, the strategy to seek a delay instead of defunding does hold some appeal for Republicans, including ardent conservatives.
“I would like to delay 100 percent of it rather than defund only a part of it,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said.