House Republican leaders on Tuesday criticized a plan to defund Obamacare by threatening to shut down the government as a fantasy scenario concocted by outside groups to raise money, and urged GOP lawmakers to swiftly approve a temporary spending bill needed to keep the government open.
Republicans emerged from a closed-door meeting mulling a proposed temporary budget bill that would keep the government open after Sept. 30 and protect the spending cuts achieved through the sequester — a major goal of GOP leadership. This legislation also would include a measure that defunds Obamacare. But conservatives advocating a defund-or-shutdown strategy balked, saying the legislation would allow the Democratic Senate to approve the spending bill and vote down the Obamacare defunding provision.
Many House Republicans returned from their summer recess this week frustrated by the demands and pressure directed at them by Washington-based conservative activist groups and Tea Party-affiliated GOP Senators. House GOP leaders are responding with a strategy that would put the onus for defunding Obamacare on Senate Republicans, while avoiding a politically risky government shutdown.
“I reject the false choice that if you are against shutting down the government you are for Obamacare,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said during the meeting to the hearty applause of at least half of the members attending, according to a source in the room. “We need to give the Senate the opportunity to join us in the fight against Obamacare. This strategy forces the Senate to take a vote and give our Republican colleagues there the chance to fight.”
Supporters of the leadership’s strategy argued in the meeting that conservative activist groups are pushing House Republicans to threaten a government shutdown unless Obamacare is defunded just to boost the groups' own fundraising. Conservative pragmatists are increasingly frustrated with the groups, saying the organizations make too many demands — and won't be satisfied regardless of the results.
This frustration extends to Republican senators like Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas, high-profile proponents of the defund-or-shutdown strategy who have been very public in pushing the House GOP to adopt this approach. House lawmakers are tired of Senate GOP colleagues “wagging us around,” as one House Republican put it.
Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010, said leadership’s strategy for addressing the funding issues and the desire of Republicans to defund Obamacare was the best choice from a menu of bad options, but at least presents a chance for success. “I think it’s a good strategy,” he said. “We have a conference that wants to fight to victory, which is funding the government at sequester levels and defunding Obmacare.”
Driving the Republican leadership’s strategy, which could be up for a vote this week, is a desire to protect the automatic spending cuts achieved through the sequester, and use that level of government funding as a baseline to extract further reductions during upcoming but separate negotiations to raise the debt ceiling. If lawmakers don't approve a budget bill to prevent a government shutdown, it would rob them of the negotiating leverage during future negotiations.
Additionally, a senior Republican House aide confirmed that GOP leaders would also use the debt ceiling talks to achieve further concessions on Obamacare, whose implementation accelerates in October. But conservative proponents of the defund-or-shutdown strategy aren’t happy with leadership’s plan, and intend to lobby colleagues on an alternative strategy that would include passing a temporary budget bill that locks in Obamacare defunding language and forces the Senate to vote on the bill in its entirety.
The leadership's plan would force the Senate to vote up or down on the defunding of Obamacare before they can send the bill to the president's desk. Whether House Republicans can gather the 218 votes needed to pass the plan themselves is uncertain. Of the 233 Republicans in the House, 15 to 20 are virtually guaranteed to oppose any spending bill and outside groups may be able to exert enough influence to kill off the measure entirely.
“I’m not buying it right now,” said Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho. “I’m not really understanding how we get to defunding Obamacare through their plan.
“The problem that the Republican conference has is that we always send them our final bill as our first salvo” he said. “That’s not good negotiation.”