BUDGET BILL: House GOP Has No Plan To Avoid Shutdown
(CNN) — After the Senate passed a short-term bill to keep federal agencies funded through mid-November, it sent the measure to the House, just three days before a possible government shutdown.
But the House was done for the day. And House Speaker John Boehner and his leadership team appear to have no plan to avoid the shutdown.
“I think our members still want to fight. What that means, I don’t know. I don’t know that they know,” one senior House GOP leadership aide told CNN.
House Republican leaders huddled on Thursday, but they won’t meet to discuss the next steps with their members until Saturday afternoon.
The House had only one series of votes on Friday morning and members trickled out of the Capitol around 11 a.m. and left for the day, more than an hour before the Senate began voting on the spending bill.
In past down-to-the wire showdowns over government funding, there were quiet backroom discussions among party leaders and top aides in the House and Senate to come up with some sort of face-saving compromise. But this time there were no signs those talks were happening.
The one thing Boehner made clear on Thursday was that the House will not accept the Senate version of the spending bill that stripped out the provision that defunds Obamacare.
He indicated the House will add something to the bill and send it back to the Senate, but refused to tip his hand on what exactly that will be.
There is no shortage of opinions, but no signs of any consensus on what the House GOP should do next and just how far it should play out the clock before the midnight deadline on Monday night.
Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole suggested the House focus on adding one provision to the spending bill that has had some bipartisan support in the Senate — a repeal of the tax on medical device manufacturers that helps fund part of Obamacare.
“Let’s send something they might not like but are willing to swallow. I think something like that makes a lot of sense and puts us in the posture of being reasonable,” Cole told reporters.
But on Friday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, “We are going to accept nothing that relates to Obamacare.”
North Carolina GOP Rep. Richard Hudson said he didn’t want a shutdown, saying, “This brinkmanship is getting old.”
But then he told reporters that he thought House Republicans should go the “Godfather route” and “make them an offer they can’t refuse” — offering Democrats a one-year delay in the forced spending cuts in the sequester for a one-year delay of Obamacare.
Hudson told reporters he was more worried about the impact of Obamacare going into effect for his constituents than any fallout from a possible government shutdown.
“I don’t see a long-term economic impact. I think the impact of all the jobs we’re going to lose because of Obamacare is much worse,” Hudson said.
Cole disagreed and said a shutdown would affect millions of Americans and result in job loss.
He took a jab at fellow Republicans who downplayed the fallout for their party.
“Politically, anybody who thinks it’s not high-risk is not playing with a full deck. It’s an extraordinary high risk for not much gain,” he said.
Arkansas Rep. Tom Cotton said the House should keep pressing for changes to Obamacare.
He wasn’t settled on a specific proposal and ran through a list that included a one-year delay of the new health care law, a one-year delay of the requirement that individuals enroll in health care coverage, a repeal of government health care support for members of Congress and their aides, and eliminating the medical device tax.
Reid has insisted the Senate won’t take up anything but a “clean” spending measure that continues funding for government agencies.
But Kansas Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp said Reid was “bluffing” and argued that House Republicans should continue pressing for a one-year delay of Obamacare.
Arkansas Rep. Steve Womack said he still wants to look at options for how the House should respond to the Senate, but signaled he thinks it would be better to shift the fight over Obamacare to the upcoming debate on the debt ceiling.
“I think a government shutdown is counterproductive to our message in 2014 because we transfer the public’s attention perhaps away from Obamacare and instead put it on the pain that will be inflicted that is still to be determined on the effects of a government shutdown,” Womack said.
If Reid holds firm and refuses to take up what the House sends over or if Senate Democrats reject it, there is a possibility that the House could pass a one-week extension of the current funding levels to avoid a shutdown and try to work something out with the Senate, multiple members told CNN.
But even if Boehner manages to maneuver around a shutdown, he has a much bigger problem looming in mid-October, when the Treasury Department’s borrowing authority expires.
The House GOP leadership’s plan for how to address the debt ceiling hit a brick wall on Thursday when a bloc of conservatives disagreed with the proposal. It’s been shelved for the time being.
President Barack Obama continues to say he won’t negotiate on the debt ceiling.
But House Republicans don’t believe he’ll stick to that posture and they still plan to attach a whole host of conditions to a debt bill that would trigger another high stakes standoff.
Cole conceded that the potential public perception that Republicans are responsible for forcing both a shutdown and a default on the nation’s credit limit would be “very dangerous.”
Outside the House chamber the Oklahoma Republican told reporters, “Those two things are about the only two things that could jeopardize the House majority” in the next election.