Rather than rallying Republicans to a less-confrontational plan to keep the government running past Sept. 30, Boehner threw in with the boisterous, rebellious wing of the House GOP: He set, for Friday, a vote that would simultaneously provide funding to keep the government open, while stripping away money to implement portions of Obama’s health-care law. This approach has proved divisive, prompting finger-pointing Wednesday among House and Senate conservatives.
The speaker’s team also announced that it intended to challenge the administration further by demanding a one-year delay of all aspects of the health-care law, known as Obamacare, when it comes time to consider granting expanded borrowing authority to the Treasury in the coming weeks. Without that authority, the federal government risks a first-of-its-kind default on the nation’s nearly $17 trillion debt.
The Democratic reaction to both ideas was swift, setting up yet another game of political brinksmanship that could leave the embattled speaker in an even weaker position and threaten the nation’s fragile economic recovery.
“We’re going to continue to do everything we can to repeal the president’s failed health-care law,” Boehner told reporters Wednesday after an hour-long huddle with the House Republican Conference.
Moments after Boehner announced his intentions, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) blasted the GOP strategy, saying 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.
Without any action by Sept. 30, almost every agency of the federal government will be partially shuttered, as an even-more-ominous deadline to increase the federal debt limit looms a few weeks later in October.
Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) — a sometime rival who in this case worked hand in hand with the speaker — initially tried to avoid the showdown. They crafted a complicated legislative mechanism that would allow them to fund the federal government at current levels until Dec. 15, while voicing symbolic opposition to the health-care law. It would have required votes entirely from the GOP side of the aisle, and dozens of House conservatives revolted against the plan outlined by Cantor as a gimmick. Wednesday that plan was shelved.
Instead, the Republicans have chosen a road fraught with peril. They face the prospect of shuttering the government in their effort to cripple Obamacare, risking political damage among results-oriented independent voters.