Republicans Plot CR Endgame

Posted September 25, 2013 at 5:11pm

House Republican leaders are now in full flinging-spaghetti-at-the-wall mode as they float ideas for a spending bill that could win over enough of their rank and file to prevent a government shutdown.

Since sending the Senate a short-term continuing resolution and full defunding of the Affordable Care Act, the GOP has leaked an array of ideas, from a one-year delay of the health care law as part of an amended stopgap bill to ending health subsidies for lawmakers and staff to, most recently, as reported by the conservative National Review, a one-week stopgap measure to buy time.

But at this point, the differences between Republicans in both chambers are almost as numerous as the potential solutions being proposed and the outcomes they would achieve. Aides in both parties and chambers concede that once the Senate sends a bill to the House, the House will send something else back. The billion-dollar questions now are when that all happens and what that next House GOP product looks like.

“We’re just talking about a few weeks of keeping the government open while we decide the bigger issues,” said Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash. “This is not the big kahuna. This is just how we manage ourselves, and they decided to make this big temper tantrum about that.”

The Senate on Wednesday voted 100-0 to open debate on the three-month House CR bill, following a 21-hour, 19-minute pseudo-filibuster from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Senate aides said they believe the Senate will send a bill — likely a CR through Nov. 15 that Democrats are advocating — to the House earlier than scheduled, with Cruz dropping his insistence that Republicans use their full procedural clock to Sunday. Cruz faced intense pressure from his colleagues after he was widely outnumbered in multiple fractious caucus meetings Tuesday. According to multiple sources, the Texas Republican insisted that he would object to any time agreement to expedite debate.

The majority of Republicans believed this would jeopardize the House GOP’s ability to finish a bill before Monday night and would leave the party largely to blame for a politically catastrophic shutdown.

While the Senate voted, House GOP leaders mulled whether to tie a one-year delay of Obamacare’s individual mandate to the continuing resolution, after already having considered attaching such a measure to the debt limit bill.

But Senate Democrats seem likely to reject that gambit — and the White House has threatened a veto to boot. Democrats are also reluctant to move a one-week stopgap measure if House Republicans cannot present a viable endgame, fearing that all a maneuver like that would do is delay by a week the same uncertainty lawmakers face now.

“The best way for the House to avoid a shutdown will be to pass the bill we send back,” one Senate Democratic aide said.

A House GOP aide said a one-week CR is unlikely at this point.

The Senate is currently considering the House-passed stopgap spending bill, and it’s likely that Democrats will succeed this week in scrubbing language that would defund Obamacare.

House Republicans put that language in the CR to secure votes from the far-right wing of their conference. Should it come back to the House without Obamacare defunding language, Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and his lieutenants will be forced to come up with a new plan to push the bill over the chamber’s finish line.

Leaders had been considering appending that language to their debt limit bill so they could assure members they would continue their fight against the health care law while also avoiding blame for a shutdown, which they have told the rank and file would fall on them. The catch, sources say, is that some House GOP members never will be convinced that President Barack Obama will not ultimately get blamed by their constituents. And many still want more immediate action on the health care law, despite the political reality that the House GOP’s 41 attempts to defund or repeal the law have not done either of those things. One idea pitting political points against their own paychecks would be to attach an amendment by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., blocking health subsidies for members of Congress, their staff and political appointees in the Obamacare exchanges.

And if they can’t find the votes on their own team, House Republicans could pursue another option: negotiate with Democrats.

Many House Democrats think the CR spending level of $986 billion is too low and that it should replace the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester. If Boehner decides that securing Democratic votes is the only way to avert a shutdown for which the GOP might be blamed, he might have to agree to some changes to that level that could, in turn, alienate his own Republican base.

Fiscal conservatives in the Senate already are frustrated that the levels are too high and that Cruz shifted the debate away from spending cuts to rolling back the health care law.

“There’s a big story that hasn’t been told to the thousands and thousands of people from Oklahoma that have called my office. They haven’t been given informed consent. They’ve been sold a bill of goods,” Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., lamented Wednesday about Republicans shirking their responsibility to discuss deficit reduction. “And when I have young interns and young staff in my office taking significant calls from people who’ve been misled, there’s no way you’re going to talk them out of a position that outside interest groups and a very few small number of people inside the Senate have planted.”

House Democrats, meanwhile, are waiting out Republicans’ next move. Another Obamacare delay by House Republicans would make it easy for most of them to vote “no” — voting against a “clean” bill that the Senate has endorsed could leave those Democrats vulnerable to criticism that they were the ones responsible for a shutdown.

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.