Boehner Puts Obamacare Defunding in the CR (Updated)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted September 18, 2013 at 10:31am

Updated 1:08 p.m. | House Republicans emerged from their weekly conference meeting Wednesday morning with a new strategy on the continuing resolution: defund Obamacare in the stopgap spending bill.

“Every member in this room is for defunding Obamacare while letting the rest of the government continue to operate,” Boehner told his conference in remarks this morning. “We’re going to put Obamacare defunding directly into the CR. And then we’re going to send it over to the Senate, so our conservative allies over there can continue the fight. That’s where the fight is.”

Boehner then told reporters at a news conference that the goal was not to shut down the government.

“There should be no conversation about shutting the government down. That’s not the goal here,” he said.

Asked whether he had lost control of his conference, the Ohio Republican replied, “The key to any leadership job is to listen.”

But Boehner seemed happy to be kicking the bill — and his own problems corralling his conference — to the Senate.

“The fight over here has been won,” he said, noting the more than 40 times the House has voted to defund, delay, repeal or replace Obamacare. “It’s time for the Senate to have that fight.”

Of course, the strategy really isn’t new. A number of Republicans and outside conservative groups have been clamoring for the plan for weeks. But leadership has maintained that such a strategy weakens the House’s negotiating position, moves the government closer to shutdown, and would not, ultimately, defund President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement.

Now leadership is going with the line that the strategy unites the GOP conference and puts Republicans in a better negotiating position — even if they privately doubt their own rhetoric.

Leadership’s plan essentially marries the CR they had already planned at the $986 billion bill level, keeping government open until Dec. 15.

Senators such as Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rand Paul, R-Ky., will now have a chance to take on the Democratic Senate — but few expect them to win, or for the president to sign such a bill if it reaches his desk.

That would mean the House would eventually have to vote on a clean CR — and perhaps one even less to conservatives liking than Boehner’s original plan — to keep the government open past Sept. 30.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., outlined a follow-on plan that would seek to marry a one-year delay in Obamacare to the debt ceiling hike, as well as tax reform and the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

“That fight will continue as we negotiate the debt limit,” Cantor said.

But early reports were that in trading a one-year debt limit increase for a one-year Obamacare delay, Republicans would be using the House-passed debt prioritization bill from Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif.

That plan could face its own conservative backlash. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., tweeted shortly after the Republican conference meeting that there “huge unintended consequences” from the debt limit portion, exempting interest from the debt limit and “effectively raising debt limit permanently.”

Meanwhile, the White House has vowed to block any bill that delays, defunds or repeals Obamacare, and the president vowed once again Wednesday not to give the Republicans anything in return for the debt limit hike.

Obama said that “you have never seen,” in the history of the United States, “the debt ceiling being used to extort a president or a governing party.”

But, as Boehner said during his news conference, Congress has long negotiated over raising the debt limit.

“This CR is not going to be any different,” he said.

As the House works on the CR, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he is just waiting to see “how absurd” the House proposal will be.

“We’re now waiting to see what the House of Representatives is going to do, how absurd it is going to be what they’re going to send us,” Reid said. “We know it’s going to be something really strange and weird because the speaker has to do everything that he can to try to mold a piece of legislation that will meet the needs of the tea party, the anarchists — and I say that without any equivocation.”

“They do not want government to work on any level, not the local level, not the state level, and certainly not here,” he said.

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.