House GOP weighs more aggressive ObamaCare push

House Republican leaders will present options for dismantling President Obama’s healthcare reform law to their members in a closed-door meeting Wednesday morning as they seek a more aggressive posture in a pair of looming fiscal fights.

The leadership is giving increased consideration to stripping out funding for the healthcare law in a continuing resolution to keep the government running after Sept. 30, Republican lawmakers said as they exited a meeting of the leadership Tuesday afternoon.

 A senior GOP aide said it was "likely" the House would send to the Senate a continuing resolution that defunded the healthcare law but that leaders had decided not to combine it with legislation raising the debt ceiling.

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Conservatives forced Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) back to the drawing board last week after they rejected a plan to merely force the Senate to vote on defunding ObamaCare, rather than withhold funds directly from the spending bill.

That proposal remains under consideration, Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) told reporters after the leadership meeting. But, he said, so is a competing plan from Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) that has gained the support of nearly one-third of the Republican Conference in recent days.

The Graves plan would strip out money for the healthcare law while funding the government for a full year. It also includes three appropriations bills the House has passed.

"It seems like the right one to me," Graves said. "You know what it does? It actually funds the government."

The leadership is also weighing whether to go after the Affordable Care Act as part of legislation to raise the debt ceiling rather than in the stopgap spending bill, Southerland said. Boehner and Cantor have privately pushed for using the debt ceiling rather than the continuing resolution for targeting the healthcare law.

“No decisions have been made, or will be made, until House Republican members meet and talk tomorrow,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said.

The chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, Rep. James Lankford (Okla.), said “nothing was set” in the leadership meeting.

“We’re going to talk about it all in conference tomorrow, so there’s no definite plan,” Lankford said.

Yet it was clear that Boehner and his deputies were veering right as they sought a plan that could unify the conference and overcome Democratic opposition. While leaders had hoped to craft a spending bill that both the House and the Senate could accept without changes, they now appear resigned to sending legislation that the Democratic majority in the upper chamber will amend and return to the House.

“I wouldn’t stow away your ping pong paddles. Let’s put it that way,” Southerland quipped, in reference to the Senate.

The House is increasingly likely to cancel a scheduled recess next week as the nation approaches the Sept. 30 deadline to avoid a government shutdown.

At least one lawmaker left the meeting Tuesday night uncertain as to whether there would be a government shutdown.

"I don't know. I really don't know," Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte said of the possibility of a shutdown.

The Virginia Republican acknowledged that the meeting was lively.

"It was spirited, but I think there was a lot more of how can we collaborate to find the right solution and move ahead. I don't think there was a lot of contention so much as it was an expression of different ideas and we're not all on the same page yet but the mood is to try to get there," Goodlatte told The Hill.

President Obama and Senate Democratic leaders have vowed not to accept any legislation that defunds or delays the healthcare law as part of either a short-term continuing resolution or legislation to raise the debt ceiling. The Treasury Department has said the nation will need more borrowing authority as soon as mid-October.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday declined to take sides in the squabble among House Republicans.

McConnell, who crafted deals to end the 2011 debt-ceiling standoff and the 2012 fight over the "fiscal cliff," said it's up to the House to find a path forward.

“One thing all Republicans agree on is that we think ObamaCare was the worst piece of legislation in the last 50 years. ... The question at this point is what the House will send us,” he told reporters. “It’s up to them. We will react to what they send us. And we’ll be happy to vote on it at that point.”

The National Review reported Tuesday the leaders had decided to defund ObamaCare in the spending bill, but leadership aides would not confirm that report.

—Erik Wasson and Molly K. Hooper contributed.

Updated at 6:36 and 7:38 p.m.