Boehner’s initial proposal was to include two provisions that would have given conservatives some small measure of satisfaction in exchange for ending the government shutdown and raising the debt limit. One would have delayed a tax on medical devices that helps finance the new health-care law. The other would have ended employer-provided health subsidies given to lawmakers and members of the executive branch, who are required to join the new health-care exchanges.
But conservatives quickly complained that it wasn’t enough. The bill would not cut spending, they said, or reform entitlement programs, or erase a clause in the health law that requires employers to provide coverage for contraception. And it clearly would not achieve their ultimate goal of ending the program they call Obamacare.
As the bickering continued, senior aides to rank-and-file Republicans resorted to watching the Twitter feeds of congressional reporters to learn who was demanding what.
By midafternoon, House leaders appeared to be rallying around a new measure. This one would not delay the medical-device tax, but it would add congressional staffers to the group of federal employees who would no longer receive any help from their employer to buy health insurance.
The proposal amounted to a $5,000 pay cut for those with individual coverage and a $10,000 cut for those with families. But conservatives theorized that Senate Democrats would have to approve it or risk looking as if they were protecting their own health benefits. And that would motivate them to reopen the health-care law, the theory went.
House leaders scheduled a vote for late Tuesday evening.
But in the end, that idea didn’t fly either. One by one, recalcitrant lawmakers were dragged to Boehner’s office. One by one, they emerged shaking their heads.
“I’ve got one vote and I’m a no,” Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), one of the most conservative House members, told waiting reporters.
Mainstream conservatives were also unhappy. After shutting the government down for 15 days, they would get nothing — not even the meager concessions McConnell and Reid had been discussing.
The final blow came shortly after 5 p.m., when Heritage Action for America, the powerful conservative group that drove Republicans to attack Obama’s health-care initiative, sent an e-mail urging lawmakers to vote no because the House bill “will do nothing to stop Obamacare’s massive new entitlements from taking root.”
Soon after, Boehner canceled the vote. An hour later, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) issued an alert telling lawmakers that the House would be in session Wednesday. No specific legislation was listed for consideration.
As for the timing of any votes, Cantor advised: “TBD.”
Rosalind S. Helderman and Jackie Kucinich contributed to this report.