Stop-gap or Shutdown? House Has Weekend to Pull Together a Strategy

WASHINGTON – The ball is back in House Speaker John Boehner’s court.

As expected, the Senate, along party lines, adopted a stop-gap spending measure on Friday that funds the federal government through Nov. 15. In so doing the upper chamber removed a House-passed provision defunding the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, much to the chagrin of Tea Party conservatives.

Now the bill returns to the House where leaders of the GOP majority are considering how to handle it – approve the Senate-passed version, thus avoiding the possibility of an Oct. 1 governmental shutdown, or amend it further, opening further negotiations with the upper chamber and making it increasingly difficult to meet the deadline for the approaching end of the federal fiscal year.

The big issue is Obamacare. Boehner had hoped to pass the temporary spending bill, known as a continuing resolution, without significant delay and postpone the battle over the Affordable Care Act until the House addresses legislation raising the nation’s $16.7 trillion debt ceiling.

House Republican leaders had intended to include a provision postponing the full implementation of Obamacare, slated to take effect Oct. 1, for one year in the debt ceiling bill. But a group of as many as 50 conservative Republican lawmakers registered objections to that strategy, pushing Boehner to draw a line in the continuing resolution negotiations, closing the government’s doors if necessary.

On Friday, National Review reported that a group of House conservatives engaged in a conference call Thursday with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who led the Senate fight against deleting the Obamacare provision. Cruz, the magazine said, “strongly advised” them to oppose the Boehner strategy of postponing the fight until the debt ceiling debate. Soon thereafter the Boehner plan began to fizzle.

"The House was always in a position where it was going to lead,” Cruz told reporters after the Senate vote. “And I know from my perspective…we look forward to helping and supporting the House, standing up and doing the right thing for the American people.”

Boehner acknowledged on Thursday that the House is unlikely to accept the Senate-passed continuing resolution without some alteration but he added that he doesn’t anticipate a governmental shutdown as a result.

Despite lacking an apparent plan of action and facing a looming deadline, the House Republican caucus isn’t scheduled to hash matters out in another closed-door meeting until early Saturday afternoon.

GOP lawmakers with Tea Party ties aren’t waiting for Boehner to act. Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) announced that he intends to offer an amendment to the Senate-passed CR implementing a one-year delay in Obamacare funding.

The Defund Obamacare Act was the first bill Graves introduced after he entered Congress in 2010. He reintroduced it in every subsequent Congress, teaming with Cruz, who introduced companion legislation in the Senate this year. The language from that bill formed the Obamacare defunding provision in the House version of the continuing resolution, which eventually passed by a vote of 230-189.