House GOP doubles down on bet to defund Obamacare

September 18, 2013

House Republican leaders announced Wednesday morning that they would take a risky double-barreled attack on President Obama's health-care law, making it the cornerstone fight over government funding due to expire Sept. 30 and the effort to lift the Treasury's borrowing authority.

Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), flanked by his leadership team, told reporters that the stopgap government funding bill that they will advance Friday would yield to conservative demands of including a rider to block funding for the law commonly known as Obamacare.

"The law is a train wreck," Boehner said. "The president has protected American big business. It's time to protect American families from this unworkable law."

In addition, House Majority Leader Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.) laid out his party's legislative grab bag of requests that will be attached to a bill that would lift the debt ceiling, including a delay of the health law, an overhaul of the tax code and approval of an energy pipeline running from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

It's a risky strategy given that Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) have unequivocally stated their opposition to defunding or delaying implementation of the health law. Reid intends to strip the health-care provisions from the government funding bill and send it back to Boehner with just days left before the Sept. 30 deadline, leaving Boehner the difficult choice of approving a stopgap bill with Democratic votes or shutting down the government.

Moments after Boehner announced his intentions, Reid took to the Senate floor to blast the GOP strategy, saying once again that Senate Republican "anarchists" are tying up the upper chamber by insisting on votes about delaying or ending the health-care law.

"Bipartisanship is a thing of the past. Now all we do is gotcha legislation," Reid said.

Rank-and-file GOP lawmakers emerging from their weekly meeting praised Boehner's decision, saying it would ensure swift passage of a short-term spending plan and finally force the Senate to hold an up-or-down vote on a plan to repeal a law that a majority of Americans dislike.

“This is the best plan that I’ve seen so far," said Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), one of several more conservative members who seemed buoyed by Boehner's decision to adopt a strategy they've pushed for all summer.

"Leadership has been very receptive to the messages of the members and then making adjustments as necessary," said Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) who first introduced a plan to defund the health-care law while funding government operations for another fiscal year.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), agreed: "There’s an overwhelming sense of support to be unified going forward.”

During the meeting, Boehner, who has served in the House since 1991, shared details of the continuing resolution, according to a senior aide familiar with his comments. Boehner said he supported the plan, but also reminded colleagues who have been elected to office in recent years of what transpired in the 1990s, warning that public opinion of President Bill Clinton soared in the weeks after a government shutdown that was prompted by similar disagreements with a Republican-led Congress over spending.

But Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a key Boehner ally, said the Speaker seemed pleased with the new strategy.

“I don’t think there’s much doubt about his passion or his commitment to getting something done and frankly when we’re at 218 we’re at our strongest, that was the basic message," Cole said. "We’ve been looking for the formula to gets us there and he thinks he’s found it.”

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Philip Rucker · September 18, 2013