The GOP family feud got a little more acrimonious Thursday as congressional Republicans bickered openly over their competing strategies for avoiding a federal government shutdown while pursuing a long-shot effort to dismantle President Obama’s 2010 health-care law.
This latest split was the result of a decision by House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) to advance a government funding bill that would restrict any money to implement the health-care legislation. Boehner’s decision, which he announced Wednesday, was a concession to members of his conservative flank, and it prompted cheers from conservatives who have questioned his political resolve in the nearly three years that he has been speaker.
Yet within hours of the announcement, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), one of the most vocal advocates of defunding the Affordable Care Act and linking it to funding the government, lamented that there is little chance that the proposal could pass the Senate. Instead, he said his House counterparts must “stand firm” on the issue. Cruz’s comments angered many House Republicans.
Several junior members lashed out and Boehner joined the fray Thursday at his weekly news conference when asked about Cruz and his conservative Senate allies.
“It’s time for them to pick up the mantle and get the job done,” Boehner told reporters.
Cruz, appearing an hour later with the House’s staunchest conservatives, responded, “I will do everything necessary and anything possible to defund Obamacare.”
Pressed about whether he would mount a filibuster, he said: “Yes, and anything else, any procedural means necessary. Listen, this is the most important fight in the country.”
This strategy has angered longtime Senate Republicans. “Box canyon, here we come,” Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) told reporters later, alluding to what he considered the pointlessness of the House effort to defund the law.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told CNN’s “The Lead”: “In the United States Senate, we will not repeal or defund Obamacare. We will not. And to think we can is not rational.”
The procedural problem Republicans face is: The House is expected to pass a funding plan Friday that includes the prohibitions on Obamacare. Afterward, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) will have an easy parliamentary path to removing that language with a simple majority. He could then return the bill to the House, without any Obamacare restrictions, leaving Boehner about 48 hours before government funding expires at midnight Sept. 30.
After Boehner spoke Thursday, Reid vowed to strike the health-care provision — as Cruz predicted — and said the speaker had given in to the pressure from the Texas Republican and conservative organizations. “Any bill that defunds Obamacare is dead — dead. It’s a waste of time,” Reid told reporters.
“Ted Cruz must know something. When he kicked the ball back to the House, that was pretty interesting,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). “The House Republicans are mad at him. He started this whole thing and now he’s saying this is your hot potato, I’m not touching it.”
Some House Republicans thought that Cruz’s outside conservative allies had set them up to take the political fall if there’s a shutdown over a strategy he had been demanding they embrace. Rep. Blake Farenthold, a second-term fellow Texan, issued a statement addressed to Cruz: “Don’t give up.”
In an attempt to show unity Thursday, seven of the most conservative House Republicans joined Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who has worked hand in hand with Cruz to push the House to adopt this strategy. The conservatives thanked Boehner for orchestrating Friday’s House vote and Cruz and Lee’s plans to carry on the push in the Senate.
The group tried to tamp down any lingering doubts among conservative lawmakers about their strategy.
“We are unified behind funding the government and stopping the harmful effects of Obamacare, 100 percent unified,” said Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.).
“We have 11 days to keep a laser-like focus on accomplishing this objective and we will not be distracted,” he added.