GOP tries to finesse vote on ObamaCare

House Republican leaders on Tuesday will propose to their members that the House use a complex procedural tactic to defund ObamaCare that would press the fight but likely avoid a government shutdown.

The plan for the stopgap spending bill is aimed at forcing the Senate into a politically difficult vote on ObamaCare and satisfying conservatives who have demanded that the GOP target the law in the fall budget fight. 

But it might not be enough.

Conservative Republicans who caught wind of the plan on Monday told The Hill it was unacceptable, and GOP leadership is anticipating push-back when it presents the proposal to the rank and file on Tuesday morning in the conference’s first full meeting since Congress’s five-week recess ended.

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The House is expected to vote by Thursday on the continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government open into December, and party leaders must release the bill text by the end of Tuesday to conform with House rules mandating that legislation be made public for at least three calendar days before a vote.

Under the plan, the House would vote on a “clean” continuing resolution that includes a separate House concurrent resolution defunding the Affordable Care Act, according to a Republican leadership aide. The rule governing debate on the bill would state that the House clerk could not send the spending bill over to the Senate until the Senate votes up or down on the resolution withholding funds from the healthcare law. 

If the Senate were to vote down the healthcare resolution, as expected, the CR would move to the upper chamber and could be passed and signed by President Obama without returning to the House.  

“It forces the Senate to vote on defund before they are allowed to vote on a CR,” a Republican leadership aide said. “It puts the onus back on Senate Democrats — that they are responsible for funding ObamaCare.”

“The only way you oppose this is if you want the government to shutdown,” the aide said.  

A second Republican leadership aide confirmed the details of the plan.

The conservative Club for Growth, which has led the charge on defunding ObamaCare, quickly came out against the plan.

“Trying to fool Republicans into voting to fund ObamaCare is even worse than offering a bill that deliberately funds it,” said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola.

“I hope this proposal is nothing more than a bad joke and is quickly discarded. Republicans should simply do what they say they are for by passing a continuing resolution that doesn’t fund 

ObamaCare.”

A Senate Democratic leadership aide reacted skeptically to the plan on Monday evening. “I’ll believe they can pass that when I see it,” the aide said.

Congress must pass a spending bill by Oct. 1 to avoid a government shutdown.

The stopgap bill from GOP leaders would keep the government running through mid-December at the current spending level of $987 billion, Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said.

That spending level keeps the 2013 sequestration cuts in place but does not reflect an additional $20 billion in cuts called for in 2014 under the law and under the House-passed budget. 

Conservatives have demanded that the House GOP use the budget fight to withhold funding for the implementation of Obama’s signature law. But many senior leaders in the party have warned that risking a government shutdown over healthcare could backfire on the GOP.

In another possible nod to conservatives, GOP leaders had already scheduled a vote this week on a separate measure that would require a verification system for some ObamaCare subsidies.

Two conservatives in the House told The Hill they opposed any plan to attach a provision defunding ObamaCare that the Senate could easily ignore or strip out.

“It’s got to be a real proposal,” Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) said. “I’m going to vote ‘no’ on the CR unless it has some definite defunding in there for ObamaCare.”

Conservative Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) said he had heard from colleagues that leadership was considering using a parliamentary trick to allow the GOP to vote for defunding ObamaCare without making it a core part of the continuing resolution. 

Such a move would not pass muster, he said. 

“Why don’t you just have the vote?” he said. “It doesn’t seem like it would ... you can’t get the Senate to vote for something if you don’t actually vote for it yourself.”

The resolution on force in Syria, which Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) support but which most House Republicans oppose, adds another complication to the leadership’s agenda. 

Conservative groups have already warned that they won’t accept the Syria crisis as an excuse to avoid a fight on ObamaCare, and Tea Party groups are planning a rally in Washington Tuesday to press their case.

Freshman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) organized a letter signed by 80 House Republicans urging leadership to defund ObamaCare in any future appropriations bill.

A conservative House GOP aide said that the 80 signatories of the Meadows letter are still expected to vote against any continuing resolution that does not defund ObamaCare.

A Meadows spokeswoman, Emily Miller, said the congressman “remained committed” to defunding the healthcare law but would look at the text of the continuing resolution before deciding his vote.

Boehner and Cantor have promised that the stopgap spending bill would maintain federal spending at sequester levels, and Cantor, in a memo sent to House Republicans on Friday, suggested that an extension of the sequester, which Obama has railed against, would represent a victory for the GOP.

“In signing a CR at sequester levels,” Cantor wrote, “the president would be endorsing a level of spending that wipes away all the increases he and congressional Democrats made while they were in charge and returns us to a pre-2008 level of discretionary spending.”

Another concern for leadership could be Republican members of the Appropriations Committee, who left Washington frustrated that the leadership had abandoned bringing more of their full-year bills to the floor, making a continuing resolution inevitable.

A member of the committee, Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), said Monday it is “very possible” he would vote against the spending bill this week because of that position.

“As an appropriator, we said we weren’t doing any more CRs, and here we are doing one,” Rooney said. “We went on an August break rather than finish the appropriations work, and that’s what bothers me more than whether or not we can actually defund ObamaCare in the CR.”