House poised to pass spending bill defunding ObamaCare

The House is poised to approve a stopgap spending bill Friday that strips out funding for President Obama’s signature healthcare law.

The continuing resolution, pushed by Republican leaders at the behest of conservatives, will serve as the first volley in a 10-day battle that will determine whether much of the federal government shuts down Oct. 1. It cleared a test vote in the House on Thursday, 230-192, setting up a final vote for Friday.

Once approved by the House, the measure will move to the Senate, where Democratic leaders have vowed to restore funding to ObamaCare and could try to increase spending levels to soften the blow of sequestration.

Backed into a corner by conservatives, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday challenged Senate Republicans to “pick up the mantle and get the job done” by fighting for the House measure in the upper chamber.

“We’ll deliver a big victory in the House [on Friday], and then this fight will move over to the Senate, where it belongs,” Boehner said at a Capitol news conference. “I expect my Senate colleagues to be up for the battle.”

A day after angering House Republicans by suggesting a Senate vote was already lost, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) vowed to do “anything possible” to defund the healthcare law, including a filibuster of a spending bill that kept it operating.

Yet it was clear that the strategy did not have unified Republican support. Appearing on CNN, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the effort to hollow out the healthcare law was doomed.

“In the U.S. Senate, we will not defund ObamaCare,” McCain said. “And to think we can is not rational.”

Boehner told reporters he expected the bill to pass Friday, and a few conservatives suggested it could gain nearly unanimous support from Republicans. Most Democrats are expected to oppose the measure over the defunding provision and a spending level of $986 trillion that maintains sequestration cuts.

The tensions among Republicans played out as the Capitol readied for a month’s worth of fiscal fights. Even as they prepared to approve the spending bill, House Republicans planned a special meeting of the full conference Friday to hash out legislation to raise the debt ceiling.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has said the increase would include a one-year delay of Obama’s healthcare law and a path forward for tax reform and the Keystone oil pipeline. The House could vote as early as next week.

The Treasury Department has said the debt limit will need to be raised by mid-October.

House GOP aides said the leadership would lay out some plans for the bill while also entertaining ideas from members for additional provisions to include. While Boehner has said any debt limit bill must have “spending cuts and reforms” greater than the increase in borrowing authority, the leadership has yet to outline specific cuts they are eyeing. 

At separate events in the Capitol on Thursday, House conservatives applauded Boehner’s decision to abandon an initial leadership plan for the spending bill and defer to their demands to directly defund the healthcare law.

But conservatives warned they would be watching Boehner's moves closely in the weeks ahead.

“At this point, we are in a ‘trust but verify’ moment,” Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) said, comparing the Republican Speaker to the Soviet communist leaders who tussled with Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.