House GOP Eyes Pre-Emptive Move to Counter Senate Debt Deal (Updated)

Posted October 15, 2013 at 9:46am

Updated 11:53 a.m. | House GOP leaders outlined a new plan Tuesday morning to reopen the government and avoid a default on the debt — but it was immediately rejected by the Democratic leaders and the White House for including a “ransom” that President Barack Obama would not accept — and leaders themselves pulled back after meeting with their conference.

“There have been no decisions about what exactly we will do,” said Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, after a nearly two-hour-long conference meeting Tuesday morning. “We’re working with our members to find a way forward.”

Boehner and his top lieutenants — Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California and Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington — all vaguely reiterated their commitment to provide “fairness” for the American people under the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare.

Boehner could not promise there would be a vote tonight on the House proposal that leaders had outlined at the meeting.

That measure would build off the emerging Senate deal, which would fund the government until Jan. 15 and raise the debt ceiling until Feb. 7, according to lawmakers and aides.

It would not include either a delay of the individual mandate or other major attempts to dismantle or undermine the Obamacare law. But the measure would suspend the Obamacare medical device tax for two years and eliminate health care benefits for lawmakers and Cabinet officials — but not congressional staff. Those are relatively small items, however. The 2 percent medical device tax raises about $2.5 billion a year.

The bill would also nix a Senate provision sought by unions eliminating an Obamacare fee on reinsuring health plans.

The House plan would also have a provision requiring income verification for Obamacare subsidies, which the Senate plan also envisioned.

Though House GOP leaders seemed to signal on Monday that they would reluctantly bring up a tentative Senate-crafted deal, a subsequent revolt by conservatives in the House apparently made leaders rethink that strategy. Indeed, tea party darling Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and 15 to 20 House GOP lawmakers met privately Monday night at a Capitol Hill restaurant to plot their strategy.

It’s still not clear whether the latest GOP leadership effort can pass muster with their flock.

And it was immediately rejected by the White House and Democratic leaders.

“The President has said repeatedly that Members of Congress don’t get to demand ransom for fulfilling their basic responsibilities to pass a budget and pay the nation’s bills,” said Amy Brundage, a White House spokeswoman. “Unfortunately, the latest proposal from House Republicans does just that in a partisan attempt to appease a small group of Tea Party Republicans who forced the government shutdown in the first place.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the latest effort was “sabotaging good-faith, bipartisan effort” in the Senate, and predicted it could not pass the House.

“What you saw here earlier was the speaker who does not have the votes for this proposal,” she said.

Even if it did, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said on the Senate floor it wasn’t going anywhere in the Senate, either.

Leaving the meeting, Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., said that members in the conference had “sincere, deep thoughts of concern” about it.

Moderate Rep. Charlie Dent appeared disappointed that House Republicans were again planning to try to push something that was unlikely to pass the Senate. “Nobody comes out of this a winner. Everybody comes out losers. Just a matter of who loses more,” the Pennsylvania Republican said.

Brundage, meanwhile, pointed to the emerging, bipartisan Senate deal for hope.

“Democrats and Republicans in the Senate have been working in a bipartisan, good-faith effort to end the manufactured crises that have already harmed American families and business owners,” she said. “With only a couple days remaining until the United States exhausts its borrowing authority, it’s time for the House to do the same.”

Emma Dumain and Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.