Boehner (R-Ohio) has proposed a short-term budget bill to keep the government open into the new fiscal year with relatively little fuss. But during a speech in Boise, Idaho, on Monday, he said House Republicans will draw a line in the sand over lifting the federal debt limit, demanding spending “cuts and reforms that are greater than the increase in the debt limit.”
“I wish I could tell you it was going to be pretty and polite and it would all be finished a month before we’d ever get to the debt ceiling. Sorry — it just doesn’t work that way,” Boehner said, predicting a repeat of the debt-limit fight of 2011, which tanked consumer confidence, along with the GOP’s approval ratings.
“What I’m trying to do here,” he said in remarks reported by the Idaho Statesman newspaper, “is to leverage the political process to produce more change than what it would produce if left to its own devices.”
What kind of change? Senior Republican aides say it is becoming clear that Boehner will have to launch a concerted assault on the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature health-insurance initiative. The Heritage Foundation, the Club for Growth and other conservative groups are demanding a full-on attempt to defund the law, and at least 80 House Republicans have signed on.
GOP leaders are resisting. Instead, talks have focused on options such as delaying the requirement that individuals purchase health insurance, which is set to take effect in January; repealing a new tax on medical devices that helps fund the law; and codifying Obama’s decision to delay penalties on employers who fail to offer insurance to workers.
This month, James Capretta and Yuval Levin, scholars at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, argued in the Weekly Standard that the “individual mandate” is “the most essential part of Obamacare” and “also among the most unpopular.” This, they wrote, “is where efforts to use the GOP’s limited leverage should be concentrated.”
This week, the Heritage Foundation fired back with a blog post declaring that “delay is not enough.” But a growing cadre of senior Republicans has condemned the defund strategy as doomed to failure, and GOP insiders say Boehner is unlikely to take a stand that would essentially require Obama to nullify his most significant legislative achievement.
Other ideas are on the table but appear less likely to be included in Boehner’s opening bid on the debt limit. In Idaho, he played down the role of tax reform, and he appears not to have mentioned the Keystone XL pipeline project. White House approval of the pipeline is another potential GOP demand.