WASHINGTON – House Republicans vowed Wednesday to pass legislation that would prevent a partial government shutdown and avoid a historic national default while simultaneously canceling out President Barack Obamas health care overhaul, inaugurating a new round of political brinkmanship as critical deadlines approach.
Obama swiftly condemned the effort as attempted political extortion, and the Republican-friendly Chamber of Commerce pointedly called on lawmakers to pass urgent spending and borrowing legislation – unencumbered by debate over Obamacare.
The two-step strategy announced by House Speaker John Boehner marked a concession to his confrontational rank and file. At the same time, it represented a challenge to conservatives inside the Senate and out who have spent the summer seeking the votes needed to pull the presidents cherished health care law out by its roots. They now will be called on to deliver.
The fight over here has been won. The House has voted 40 times to defund, change Obamacare, to repeal it. Its time for the Senate to have this fight, said Boehner, an Ohio Republican.
As outlined by several officials, Boehner and the leadership intend to set a House vote for Friday on legislation to fund the government through Dec. 15 at existing levels while permanently defunding the health care law. The same bill will include a requirement for Treasury to give priority to Social Security and disability payments in the event the government reaches its borrowing limit and cannot pay all of its obligations.
A second measure, to be brought to the floor as early as next week, would allow Treasury to borrow freely for one year.
That same bill is also expected to be loaded with other requirements, including the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline from Canada to the United States, a project that environmentalists oppose and that the Obama administration has so far refused to approve. Other elements will reflect different Republican budget priorities, including as-yet-undisclosed savings from health care and government benefit programs and steps to speed work on an overhaul of the tax code.
Prospects for passage of the two bills are high in the House, where Republicans have a majority and leaders pronounced the rank and file united behind the strategy.
But both measures are certain to be viewed as non-starters by majority Democrats in the Senate. Some Republicans appeared to concede during the day that the legislation that eventually reaches the White House will leave the health care law in effect.
I dont think that any reasonable person thinks theres anything to be gained by a government shutdown, said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. Rather than a shutdown of government, what we need is a Republican victory in 2014 so we can be in control. Im not sure those are mutually compatible.
But a fellow Texas Republican, Sen. Ted Cruz said it was important to hold fast. He said Democrats appear at present to have the votes to restore funds for the health care law, adding, At that point, House Republicans must stand firm, hold their ground and continue to listen to the American people.
Congressional Democrats competed to denounce the Republican move in the strongest possible terms. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said the GOP was pursuing an insane plan. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said, A group of extremists is threatening to hold our government hostage.
Obama, speaking to CEOs at a meeting of the Business Roundtable, said, You have never seen in the history of the United States the debt ceiling or the threat of not raising the debt ceiling being used to extort a president or a governing party and trying to force issues that have nothing to do with the budget and have nothing to do with the debt.
He attributed the effort to a small faction within the Republican Party.