September 10, 2013

House Republicans have settled on a plan, if you can call it that, for this fall’s fiscal fight. They will try to pass a “clean” continuing resolution, temporarily funding the government at current sequester levels, while also passing a separate measure defunding Obamacare. The idea would be to force the Senate to vote down the latter measure, whereupon the Senate could then pass the measure funding the government. Conservatives get to vote to defund Obamacare; House Republicans don’t get tarred with a government shutdown. Problem solved, right?

Well, not really. Conservatives are unlikely to accept such an outcome. And so, as National Review’s Jonathan Strong reports, GOP leaders are also floating another anti-Obamacare tactic that will unfold after the government shutdown fight:

Majority Leader Eric Cantor spent 90 percent of a presentation to House Republicans in the Capitol basement this morning explaining and defending his convoluted plan to force the Senate to vote on defunding Obamacare before eventually allowing the upper chamber to send a “clean” CR to President Obama.

Towards the end, however, he dropped a big piece of news about the House Republican strategy heading into the next fiscal fight — over raising the debt ceiling. To increase the debt ceiling, Cantor said, Republicans will demand a one-year delay to Obamacare.

I asked a GOP aide for clarification. He emailed:

It’s absolutely one of the possible outcomes of a debt limit negotiation, and likely given the President’s proclivity for delaying sections of this law. Whether it’s a mandate delay, or delaying the law entirely, it depends on a great deal of other factors.

This is all very convoluted at this point. But what seems to be happening is that House GOP leaders want to avoid a government shutdown fight without admitting to the base that Republicans don’t have the leverage they need to stop Obamacare.

The problem is that conservatives are already smelling a sell-out in the GOP leadership’s plan for a temporary CR as separate from a defund-Obamacare vote. As Sahil Kapur reports, conservatives are already slamming the scheme as a “grand betrayal” and worse. And so the legitimate question right now is whether Republicans can even pass a clean CR with the vote on Obamacare separated off from it.

There are probably plenty of mainstream garden-variety anti-Obamacare conservatives in the House who would be happy with the House leadership’s dual-vote plan. They’d get to tell their constituents they voted to defund Obama’s tyrannical health care law, without having to explain to them why the government is shutting down. But conservative opposition to anything short of total war against Obamacare is such that this may not be an option for many mainstream Republicans. So Republicans, on their own, might not be able to pass the current GOP leadership plan.

And so the game plan seems to be to promise an anti-Obamacare stand around the debt limit later. But it’s unclear whether that will mollify conservatives enough to make it possible to pass the short term CR. What happens then is anyone’s guess. Indeed, all of this is largely guesswork at this point.

Separately, don’t miss Brian Beutler’s deep dive into the longer term battle over the sequester and whether it will ever be replaced, which, ultimately, is where the real action will lie, beyond all the short term shenanigans we’ll have to endure this fall.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.