In public remarks, House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) let it be known that the real action would be on the debt ceiling. (“For decades, congresses and presidents have used the debt limit for legislation to cut spending, and even President Obama worked with us two years ago in the debt-limit negotiations to put controls on spending. This year is not going to be any different.”)
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) was on message as well, telling reporters, “Not since the Korean War has the federal government reduced spending two years in a row. We aim to make that happen. And we aim to put a stop to Obamacare before it costs one more job, or raises a family’s out-of-pocket expenses one more dollar. That fight will continue as we negotiate the debt limit with the President and the Senate.”
While the House wants to go on record defunding Obamacare, a GOP aide told me, “Members were already good to go on this [debt ceiling strategy]. They understand now the fight is on the debt limit, and that case was made again today.” But the action, the aide said, will now shift to the loudest shutdown-squad voices in the Senate. He observed that House Republican leaders “don’t know if everyone has thought about what is going to come back – mostly because Ted Cruz and company have never been able to answer that question.” A lot will turn on “what the Senate actually does,” he cautions.
So far we’ve not seen anything like 40 votes to stop a continuing resolution in the Senate that would include Obamacare funding. A vote would force Senate Democrats, however, to be on record as rejecting a House one-year delay, which in and of itself will be a strategic plus for Republicans. More interesting is the strong likelihood that Dems and Rs will join to keep the sequester in place, contrary to the White House’s wishes.
The longer House Republicans can stand united (in contrast to the disunity on Plan B in the fiscal-cliff fight), the more likely it is that they will get past the continuing-resolution hurdle and extract something from the White House.
Cantor previewed the array of items that could be in the mix: “In the coming week, we will unveil a plan to extend our nation’s ability to borrow, while delaying Obamacare and protecting working middle-class families from its horrific effects.” He added, “Those discussions will also focus on a path forward on tax reform and the Keystone pipeline, and a variety of other measures designed to lower energy prices, simplify our tax system, and get our economy going for the middle-class, working people of this country.”
There is a very, very long way to go but House Republican leaders and their aides are certainly in a sunnier mood than they have been of late. (They had some fun at the president’s expense with a YouTube video contrasting the president’s refusal to negotiate on the debt ceiling with his eagerness to haggle with Russian president Vladimir Putin.) We’ll see how sunny they are in a few weeks.