Shutdown looms as House GOP tries again on ObamaCare

Greg Nash

House Republicans will try again to unravel President Obama’s healthcare law in a stopgap spending bill Monday night, virtually ensuring Congress will miss a midnight deadline to avert a shutdown of the federal government.

During a closed-door, members-only meeting in the Capitol on Monday, party leaders outlined a plan to lawmakers in which the House would seek to attach a one-year delay of ObamaCare’s individual mandate to a stopgap spending bill. The plan would also strip out subsidies in the law for members of Congress and political appointees, lawmakers said.

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Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) presented the plan at the same time as Democrats in the Senate voted to table the House GOP’s previous amendments to a Senate-passed continuing resolution. 

Boehner later spoke with President Obama over the phone, but the call did not appear to make much progress. Obama placed calls to all four congressional leaders Monday night. 

“The president called the speaker this evening to discuss funding for the government and Obamacare," Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said in a statement. "The speaker told the president that Obamacare is costing jobs and that American families are being denied basic fairness when big businesses are getting exemptions that they are not. The call lasted nearly ten minutes.”

According to the White House, the president insisted to both House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that he would continue to oppose any attempt to undermine his signature health care law. He also reiterated that he was unwilling to negotiate in any way over the nation's debt ceiling, which will be hit on Oct. 17.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) vowed to reject any further changes to the stopgap spending bill that the House might send over Monday night.

“Twenty, 30 minutes, we’ll get rid of that,” he said. “We’re not going to negotiate on this. We have done everything we can to be fair and reasonable.”

Reid said Boehner was involved in talks earlier this year to shield lawmakers and their staffs from losing their employer-provided health contribution.

“Every step of the way, Boehner knew what was going on,” he said. “So, to me, it’s fairly disingenuous for him to now say he doesn’t want my staff to go on the exchanges. That he doesn’t want me to go on the exchanges."

It was not immediately clear whether Republicans could secure the votes for the leadership’s latest plan. If all Democrats opposed it, party leaders could lose only 16 Republicans to get it passed.

Party leaders were not formally whipping their members to support the new bill, a senior GOP aide said, increasing the uncertainty of the outcome.

Exiting the meeting, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said there was strong but not unanimous support for Boehner’s plan. It was clear, he said, that there were “some members who did not agree with it.”

“So we’ll have to see what happens on the floor tonight,” he told reporters.

Some conservatives in the House do not want leaders to back off a full delaying or defunding of the healthcare law in exchange for keeping the government open, while a smaller contingent of more centrist members are pushing for Boehner to allow a vote on a “clean” continuing resolution as demanded by the White House and Senate Democrats.

After Boehner outlined the plan, members got up to voice their opinions. Some expressed concerns about the impact of scrapping subsidies for themselves and their staff.

"There's some angst with the idea that it could hurt our staff and we don't want to hurt our staff," Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) said. "But you know, the law is the law and we need to stick with the law."

Fleming later predicted this would be the last funding measure the House would vote on.  

Some conservatives, including Reps. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), said they were unsure if the plan went far enough because it did not completely cut off funding for ObamaCare.

More centrist Reps. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) and Peter King (R-N.Y.) stood up to urge the leadership to bring a clean continuing resolution to the floor.

King said that as of Saturday night, between 20 and 25 House Republicans were opposed to sending over a new plan that would face certain rejection by the Senate and precipitate a shutdown. But he did not know how many would follow through and vote no on the floor.

"Enough people agree with me. How they're going to vote, I don't know," he told the reporters.

King said he told his colleagues he would oppose both the proposal and a procedural vote to bring it to the floor. “I don’t want to continue to be a facilitator for both a disastrous process and plan,” he told reporters, summarizing his remarks in the conference meeting. He said he told his colleagues that “there are too many who are living in their own echo chamber.”

King joked that after he was done speaking, Republicans responded with “overwhelming silence.”

When asked who should shoulder the blame for a potential shutdown, King identified Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) "and anybody that follows him."

"It will lead us into a dead end, following Ted Cruz," King said of the latest plan.

Entering the meeting, Dent told reporters “it’s time to get on with the business of governing the country.”

“The hourglass is nearly empty, and it’s time that we pass a clean CR,” he said.

Despite the push from Dent and King, there was no discussion from the leadership of putting a clean bill to a vote, lawmakers said. "We've been compromising all along in this process,” Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said. "This shows we're flexible and compromising.”

Ryan predicted strong support from the rank-and-file.

"Most folks are for it. We just think it's fair,” he said. “Members of Congress shouldn't get a sweetheart deal. They shouldn't get any special deals."

Alexander Bolton, Bernie Becker, Peter Schroeder and Emily Goodin contributed to this story.

This story was posted at 3:16 p.m. and last updated at 8:03 p.m.