Unless Congress acts, the government will shut down Oct. 1. The Treasury also faces a potential default as soon as Oct. 18, according to independent estimates. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he wants to avoid a shutdown and a default. But deep divisions within Republican ranks have left Boehner scrambling for a strategy that the vast majority of his caucus would embrace.
Democrats worry that the GOP-controlled House will be unable to act — leaving Washington barreling toward economy-rattling deadlines for the third straight year.
As GOP leaders struggled to build support for a plan backed by Boehner, members of the conservative Republican Study Group put forward their own proposal at a closed-door meeting.
Some floated the idea of increasing the debt ceiling, as Obama and the Democrats want, to avoid a default by the nation as well as more funding for government agencies, ending some of the deep federal spending cuts known as sequestration. Such an offer, they said, would have to be accompanied by an agreement to delay for one year the full implementation of Obama’s health-care law.
GOP leaders are pushing their original proposal, which would fund the government at current levels through Dec. 15, while haggling with conservatives for a broader resolution. Boehner’s measure includes a resolution to defund the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare. But the legislation is structured to allow the Senate to vote down that provision and send the underlying bill to the president for his signature, which would avoid a government shutdown.
Although several Republicans called the situation “fluid,” some rank-and-file lawmakers made clear Wednesday that they would not accept Boehner’s terms.
“Wouldn’t it be ironic if the government shuts down because our leadership won’t offer a bill that Republicans will vote for? That’s what happened this week,” said freshman Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), one of the leading agitators pushing to defund the health-care law, even if it means shutting down the government.
Obama has rejected any attempts to negotiate over the legislation.
“We will not accept anything that delays or defunds Obamacare,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday. “Harming the economy to refight old political battles, to refight a battle that was waged and ended when Congress passed the law, the president signed the law, [and] the Supreme Court upheld the law is not in the interest of the American middle class.”
The gridlock among House Republicans came as the top four leaders in Congress plan to huddle Thursday morning to try to find a way forward on the pressing fiscal deadlines: Oct. 1, when funding is set to expire for the government, and Oct. 18, when the Treasury is likely to begin running out of measures to keep borrowing and begin the process that could lead the nation to default on its nearly $17 trillion in debt.