Speaker of the House John Boehner (Ohio), in a call with his conference Thursday evening, told Republicans the best move would to be secure the sequester cuts in a continuing resolution rather than threaten to shut down the government, a source on the call told Right Turn. As for Obamacare, the House would seek to delay the individual mandate, not defund the president’s pet legislation, a move that effectively pulls the rug out from Senate hardliners threatening to shut down the government.

The source related that Boehner told his members, “The president is desperate to get rid of the sequester. . . . So desperate that he says he’ll shut down the government if
Congress follows the law and funds the government at the levels his sequester
mandates. The president’s threat to shut down the government if we implement his sequester is not a defensible position. The American people won’t stand for it, and we’re not going to be swayed by it.” According to the source, Boehner then said, “When we return, our intent is to move quickly on a short-term continuing resolution that keeps the government running and maintains current sequester spending levels. Our message will remain clear: Until the president agrees to better cuts and reforms that help grow the economy and put us on path to a balanced budget, his sequester — the sequester he himself proposed, insisted on and signed into law — stays in place.”

A senior GOP aide told me that no final decisions have been made on defunding Obamacare as it relates to the continuing resolution. However, Boehner clearly intends to thwart what many sober conservatives see as a suicidal plan to defund Obamacare.

As for the president’s health-care plan, the source on the conference call told Right Turn that Boehner vowed “to implement the plan to stop Obamacare that I
outlined last month.” He stressed, “The delays the administration have been forced to implement in the health-care law have given us a golden opportunity to talk about fairness: ‘If big business gets relief from the president’s health-care law, families and small businesses should, too.’ This message strikes a chord with Americans.
When people hear it, it resonates.”

On defunding Obamacare, Boehner reminded the House Republicans that they’ve been there, done that. “The president has already signed seven bills delaying or repealing parts of his health-care law. We’re going to keep the pressure on the president and Senate to act on the delay bills that passed the House in July with significant bipartisan support,” he said. “We’re going to keep holding votes that chip away at the legislative coalition the president is using to force Obamacare on the nation.”

A senior House aide made the case to me that “all the leaders have now been pretty
clear that absent 60 votes in the Senate, defund is on weak ground.” He recalled that the debt limit has historically been a spot where “big things” happen, citing Gramm-Rudman-Hollings, the Budget Control Act and the 1996 Congressional Review Act, while the delay on Obamacare seems like a “a winnable fight.” In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that outfits such as the Heritage Foundation were explaining that if the GOP could delay or undermine the individual mandate, Obamacare would topple. Boehner can correctly say he’s following that sage observation by staging a vote on delay in concert with the debt-ceiling raise.

Republican House and Senate offices sounded relieved if not gleeful Thursday night. One Senate adviser said point blank that this will end the shutdown threat “if Boehner can get it done in the House.”

Liberal flacks for the White House will claim that seeking to delay Obamacare in the debt-ceiling fight is worse than a fight over the continuing resolution, but Boehner has never countenanced a default, and the Senate will, of course, refuse to let that happen. In essence, Boehner shifts the onus from Republicans to Senate Democrats who have to decide whether to defend a hobbled health-care law or delay it, raise the debt ceiling and hope the administration can correct the implementation problems. If Dems vote to delay Obamacare, it’s a huge win for the GOP. If they don’t, it sets up the issue for 2014.

The open secret on Capitol Hill, as one Republican put it, is that the extremists on the right who are advocating a shutdown stunt (just like when they wanted to go over the fiscal cliff in January) “are still crazy, and the crazy ones are generally [the ones] who want to talk and dominate” the discussion. But, at least on this issue, they don’t have enough support to force the House, and the party, over the cliff.

That leaves Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)  — the most vocal proponents of a shutdown — with egg on their faces. Sure, avoiding a shutdown will give Heritage an excuse to gin up the fundraising machine (Sell outs!), but Boehner’s move goes a long way toward keeping the country and the GOP from a train wreck. No wonder Democrats seem so glum.