House GOP struggles to sell ObamaCare plan to conservatives

House Republican leaders were struggling Tuesday to sell skeptical conservatives on their plan to force the Senate to vote on defunding ObamaCare before enacting a critical measure to keep the government funded.

The conservative groups Club for Growth, Heritage Action and FreedomWorks announced their opposition to the plan within hours of its unveiling at a closed-doors Republican meeting.

Separately, some conservative lawmakers at a Tea Party rally outside the Capitol denounced the idea as a “gimmick” that stopped short of defunding President Obama’s healthcare law.

GOP lawmakers at Tuesday’s meeting offered a mixed response, with some saying they would consider voting for the proposal but only in exchange for a commitment from party leaders to demand a one-year delay in the implementation of ObamaCare in negotiations to raise the debt ceiling next month.

Under the plan, the House would vote on a continuing resolution that maintains federal spending at sequester levels and keeps the government running through mid-December. The measure would include a separate concurrent resolution defunding the healthcare law, and under the rule governing debate, the Senate would have to hold an up-or-down vote on the healthcare resolution before it could vote on the spending bill. Assuming the Senate vote to defund ObamaCare failed, the continuing resolution could then be sent to the president without returning to the House.

GOP leaders would like the House to approve the legislation this week, but it is unclear whether they will be able to round up enough votes with Democrats vowing to withhold their support.

Top Republicans spent the day corralling members to see if the bill could pass by the end of the week. If all Democrats opposed the measure, Republicans could afford no more than 16 defections from their own side.

“It’s too early to tell,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a member of the whip team close to leadership who called the plan “very well-conceived and put-together.”

“I think we’ll probably know something in the next 24 hours,” he said. “My guess is you start off strong, but we’re probably not there today.”

Others were more pessimistic.

“I don’t think they have the votes for anything,” a veteran lawmaker told The Hill as he left the House floor.

“It doesn’t look good,” Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) said.

The leadership is not yet considering adding sweeteners to the measure to win conservative support, a senior GOP aide said, because they don’t want to add amendments that the Senate could simply strip out.

“There is no good second option,” the aide said late Tuesday afternoon when asked what would happen if the leadership couldn’t win the vote.

Majority Leader Eric CantorEric CantorSpecial interests hide behind vets on Independence Day What to watch for in Comey’s testimony Trump nominates two new DOD officials MORE (R-Va.) argued in the private meeting that the plan would put the House in stronger position both on the budget fight and the upcoming debate over raising the debt ceiling.

“We need to give the Senate the opportunity to join us in the fight against ObamaCare,” Cantor told his colleagues, according to a person in the room.

“We need to preserve the sequester and ensure we aren’t sent back a CR with higher spending levels leaving us with little leverage in the debt limit debate,” Cantor said.

Rep Paul RyanPaul RyanNew Dem message doesn’t mention Trump Intelligence authorization fails in House Overnight Finance: Dems roll out 'Better Deal' economic agenda | Regulators mull changes to 'Volcker Rule' | Gingrich, small biz launch tax cut campaign MORE (Wis.), the Budget Committee chairman and GOP 2012 vice presidential candidate, also said members should support the plan.

“I think the best fight over ObamaCare is on the debt limit,” Ryan said.

Republicans are also under pressure in that battle, where conservatives want their party to delay ObamaCare in exchange for lifting the debt ceiling.

In a brief interview Tuesday afternoon, Cantor declined to say whether he had promised to demand a delay in ObamaCare in exchange for lifting the debt limit, which the Treasury Department projects will need to happen by mid-October. But he made clear it remained an option.

“I believe that we as a conference will stand by our goal of achieving the spending reductions and reforms consistent with our desire to get to balance in 10 years,” Cantor told The Hill. “I’m absolutely in favor of a delay in ObamaCare. This thing is not ready for primetime and will never be ready for primetime.”

Conservative Rep. John FlemingJohn FlemingCoast Guard suspends search for missing Ohio plane Freedom Caucus member to bring up bill on impeaching IRS chief GOP seeks to make it 52 MORE (R-La.) said he would oppose the continuing resolution if the leadership did not commit to seeking a one-year ObamaCare delay in the debt ceiling fight. Although he said he had spoken about the idea with Cantor privately and the majority leader “was very interested,” Fleming said the proposal got short shrift in the conference meeting on Tuesday.

“That’s a signal to me that leadership is not committed to that move,” he told reporters. “And unless they are committed to that, I’m not going along on the defund in the CR because that’s just a show vote, it’s nothing else. We’ve done 40 show votes. It’s time we do a serious vote.”

Reps. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), Michael BurgessMichael BurgessMedicaid efficiency is needed now, more than ever In the politics of healthcare reform, past is prologue New hope for ObamaCare repeal? Key GOP lawmaker working on amendment MORE (R-Texas), Louie GohmertLouie GohmertSteve King compares military pay for gender transition to Ottoman's castrating slaves House passes 6.5B defense policy bill Budget process drags as GOP struggles for consensus MORE (R-Texas), Steve King (R-Iowa) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) were among those who told reporters after the meeting they were either opposed to or not yet persuaded on the proposal.

“I’m listening, but I’m skeptical because people back home want us to stop ObamaCare,” Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) said. “We’ve got to make sure that anything moving forward, we have to be committed to stopping it by Oct. 1. This to me doesn’t look like it’s going to get that job done.”

“We can’t give our tools away procedurally,” he said.

Huelskamp and Rep. Tom GravesTom GravesWeek ahead: House eyes trillion-dollar omnibus | Crunch time for Senate ObamaCare repeal bill | Senate moves ahead on Trump nominees House GOP looks to advance trillion-dollar omnibus House Republicans consider repeal of ObamaCare's insurance mandate MORE (R-Ga.) were poised to go to the House Committee on Rules as early as Wednesday to seek a vote on an amendment to the continuing resolution that would put the ObamaCare defunding language into the text of the CR. Several threatened to vote against the rule for the CR if such a vote was not permitted.

Stutzman said the caucus seemed “really split” on the leadership’s plan.

“It did seem like there is a pretty good number that is skeptical of the plan,” he said.

“I’m not for it,” Massie said.

Other conservatives praised the idea, however.

Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.) said leadership will gauge support for the leadership plan at votes on Tuesday and if the results come back favorable the bill could be introduced by midnight. Under the House GOP rules, a bill must be public on three calendar days before a vote, so for the measure to come to the floor on Thursday, the deadline is Tuesday.

Campbell said he really likes the plan because its gets the Senate on record on an unpopular issue.

“I wish I had come up with it,” he said.

Molly K. Hooper, Bernie Becker, Peter Schroeder, Mike Lillis, Elise Viebeck and Patrick Mortiere contributed.