House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) yielded to his right flank by agreeing to attach the healthcare law repeal to a must-pass bill to keep the government funded past Sept. 30. A vote is expected Friday on a bill that would allow the government to stay open for the next few months.
The measure is all but certain to pass the Republican-led House, but faces rejection in the Senate, where the Democratic majority has shown little interest in undoing Obama’s signature domestic achievement.
Without a resolution by Oct. 1, the start of the new federal fiscal year, the government will run out of money to keep federal workers on the job and provide basic services.
Boehner and his leadership team had tried to avoid a prolonged battle over government funding, but the speaker saw no other option after the most conservative House members revolted last week.
“Every member in this room is for defunding Obamacare,” Boehner told his colleagues in a private meeting in the Capitol basement, according to a source in the room. “We’re going to send it over to the Senate, so our conservative allies over there can continue the fight.”
Top Republicans worry the party will be blamed if government services are interrupted, much the way the party suffered during the last shutdowns in the mid-1990s. They were hoping to hold off the fight over repealing the healthcare law until next month, when Obama may be forced to bargain in exchange for the administration’s request to raise the debt limit to borrow money to avoid defaulting on the nation’s bills.
But many rank-and-file Republicans believe stopping the healthcare law is their constituents’ top priority.
“We’re doing what the American people are asking us to do,” said third-term Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.). “I think now is the time. You take the best opportunity that you have.”
Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.), among those leading the fight, said, “I think over the next 12 days there’s going to be a strong argument from the American people saying this is the path forward.”
Polls show more Americans oppose the law, the Affordable Care Act, than support it, even as the online health insurance marketplaces are set to open Oct. 1. Obama on Wednesday asked the Business Roundtable, an organization of top business leaders, to use its influence to encourage lawmakers to “not promise apocalypse every three months.”
“I think this is the time for us to say once and for all we can’t afford these kinds of plays,” Obama said. “I know the American people are tired of it. I’m tired of it, and I suspect you’re tired of it too.”
A similar message was sent to Capitol Hill from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which warned that it was “not in the best interest of the U.S. business community or the American people to risk even a brief government shutdown.”
The fight to keep the government running is the first in series of choke points this fall that Republicans intend to use to pressure Obama since they have failed repeatedly to stop the healthcare law.
By mid-October, Congress will be asked to raise the debt limit, and Republican leaders are gearing up to demand a one-year delay of the healthcare law as part of any deal with the White House. The funding bill, if approved, would keep the government open through Dec. 15.
How Congress will handle the Sept. 30 deadline for a government funding resolution remains an open question.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will probably ask Democrats to strip the healthcare law repeal from the resolution, but Republicans in the Senate will be under enormous pressure to prevent that.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a potential presidential contender who has been a vocal opponent of the healthcare law, and other conservative senators are being urged by their House colleagues to mount a round-the-clock filibuster, if needed, to thwart Democrats.
The senator, however, did not appear to promise heroics as he acknowledged Reid probably had enough votes. But Cruz’s spokesman said “all options remain on the table.”
Intensifying the threat of a shutdown, Boehner does not appear to have a backup plan if the Senate sends the funding bill back to the House without the healthcare law repeal.
Many House Republicans appear unprepared for that scenario, which could unfold late next week. Others, such as Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), insisted they would not vote for a bill that did not kill the healthcare law.
“This is the line in the sand,” he said.
Boehner may need to rely on Democrats to help pass the bill, which he has been increasingly reluctant to do because it could threaten his already shaky hold over his Republican majority.
Christi Parsons in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.