House GOP leaders shift focus back to government funding bill

House Republicans will meet Saturday in the Capitol to plot their next moves in the fiscal fight, lawmakers said Friday.

GOP leaders are returning their focus to a stopgap spending bill after they could not secure votes for a debt ceiling measure.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) signaled the House would now vote first on a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded before turning to the debt ceiling bill, which has yet to be formally released.

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“We are looking at making sure we finish the business of the CR and, as we know, the debt ceiling is going to be upon us in the next couple of weeks,” Cantor told The Hill Friday. “But our focus right now is seeing what comes back on the CR.”

The Senate is expected Friday afternoon to send the House a continuing resolution that funds the government through Nov. 15 but strips out a provision withholding money for President Obama’s healthcare law. Both chambers have until the end of Monday to pass legislation to avert a government shutdown.

House GOP leaders had hoped to vote on separate legislation tying an increase in the debt ceiling to a wish list of Republican priorities, but that plan was scrapped after conservatives voiced concerns with both the strategy and the proposal.

The Treasury Department says it will need an increase in borrowing authority by Oct. 17 to avoid a first-ever default.

Cantor would not say what the House might attach to the continuing resolution. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday the House was unlikely to accept a “clean” bill without any concessions to Republicans.

Conservatives Friday were rallying around the idea of attaching a one-year delay of the healthcare law to the Senate’s continuing resolution. Senate Democratic leaders have vowed to reject that move, so unless the House also sends a separate, short-term spending bill, a shutdown would appear inevitable.

“I think it’s got tremendous support. Maybe not from our leadership; hopefully we’ll get our leaders to follow,” Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-Texas) said.

At the same time, senior Republicans were hoping to convince members to attach a less controversial item that Democrats might be tempted to accept, such as a repeal of the healthcare law’s medical device tax or a provision stripping out subsidies for members of Congress and their staff.

Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) said he too was for a one-year delay, but he said the conference had yet to coalesce around a strategy.

“I think the question is, do we go with the carrot or the stick strategy,” Hudson told reporters. “Do we try to do something bad enough to sort of force Harry Reid to negotiate with us? Or do we do something that we think he can’t refuse to say yes to? So I think we’re still up in the air trying to figure that out.”

Hudson said he’d be fine with trying to tie a one-year delay to the debt limit as well.

“As far as I’m concerned, anything we can do to get a one-year delay ought to be on the table,” the North Carolina Republican said. “We haven’t coalesced around a consensus yet, but hopefully we can get together and do that.”

Hudson added that Boehner would pay a huge price if he decided to push through a clean spending measure, a prospect that would almost certainly require mostly Democratic votes. 

“I think it would be devastating to the Speaker’s support in the conference," Hudson said.

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said some of the other ideas on the table — a repeal of the medical device tax, or revoking healthcare subsidies for lawmakers and staff — would not be enough for him to back a short-term spending deal.

“Those are piddly things in the context of trillion-dollar deficits that we’ve sustained for the last four years,” Brooks said.

Brooks also noted that government shutdowns were more common before the Clinton-era standstill and suggested that his party was too worried about being stuck with the blame if the government goes dormant again

“America survived the last 17 government shutdowns,” Brooks said. “By and large, federal employees have ended up in those instances getting paid vacations.”

Rep. Patrick Tiberi (R-Ohio), a close ally of the Speaker, has been among the GOP lawmakers who believed the Republicans would take a hit if the government shuts down.

With that in mind, Tiberi suggested he could see the potential for a very short-term, perhaps one week, extension of government funding.

“If you can’t get the House and the Senate together by midnight on Sept. 30, it becomes a more viable strategy,” Tiberi said.

But with less than four days before that would happen, Tiberi — like many other Republicans — didn’t express much anxiety about the looming deadline.

“You guys have seen this movie before,” Tiberi told reporters. “It’s not the first time.”

— Erik Wasson contributed to this story.

This story was posted at 11:16 a.m. and updated at 12:19 p.m.