Conservatives skeptical of GOP ObamaCare defunding move

House Republican leaders will have to overcome a skeptical conservative bloc to pass a plan that would force the Senate to vote on defunding ObamaCare before enacting a critical spending measure.

Lawmakers on Tuesday offered a mixed response to a proposal outlined by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) that would use a procedural maneuver to give conservatives a vote on President Obama’s healthcare law while diminishing the chances of a government shutdown after Sept. 30.

The House could vote by the end of the week on the plan, but with Democrats unlikely to help, it remains unclear whether the leadership could cobble together enough votes among conservatives. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters the leadership would be talking to members about the plan “as the day goes on and the rest of the week.”

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“Listen, our goal here is not to shut down the government,” he said after the closed-door meeting. “Our goal is to cut spending and to stop ObamaCare. I believe the strategy that was outlined to the members this morning accomplishes that.”

Under the plan, the House would vote on a continuing resolution (CR) that maintains federal spending at sequester levels. The measure would include a separate concurrent resolution defunding the healthcare law, and under the rule governing debate, the Senate would have to vote up-or-down 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.

Boehner will meet on Thursday with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to discuss the budget and the debt ceiling.

Cantor argued in the 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. “This strategy forces the Senate to take a vote and give our Republican colleagues there the chance to fight.”

“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.

Conservatives had demanded that the leadership defund the healthcare law in the continuing resolution, and opinion in the GOP conference on the leadership plan was “kind of split,” Rep. Tom Price said.

“But these plans most often are at the beginning,” the Georgia Republican added. “What we need is the Senate to actually fight. They’ve got to get in this process.”

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, said the situation remained fluid.

“I don’t think we’re at a final place yet. Our goal is to continue to fund the government while delaying the president’s healthcare law.” Scalise said. “Obviously, we’ve got to work on the best way to do it that actually gets it done.”

“We’re going to look at other options,” the Louisiana Republican added. “But I don’t think we’re there yet.”

Reps. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), Michael Burgess (R-Texas), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) were among those who told reporters after the meeting they were either opposed 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.

Stutzman said the caucus seemed “really split” on the 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 made public at least 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. 

He said the “usual suspects” in the party are opposed to it, but they mostly kept quiet in the meeting.

“No-one came out and said this is terrible, which is why it’s still uncertain,” Campbell said. He said that the members skeptical of it appear to forget that Congress is bicameral and the Senate will have a say on defunding ObamaCare no matter what.

“I’m studying it,” Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) said.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said that the leadership idea was well received, and an aide said a bill could be filed as soon as Tuesday.

“The members need an up-or-down vote on defunding ObamaCare. They also need a vote to continue the government and to avoid a shutdown,” Rogers told reporters. “So this strategy, I think, satisfies both needs.”

“I don’t want to see a shutdown of the government,” the Appropriations chairman added. “And I don’t think anyone believes that the president would sign a bill that defunds ObamaCare.”

Still, Rogers declined to predict whether the gambit had enough support in the GOP conference.

“Well, we’ll see,” Rogers said.


— Elise Viebeck and Peter Schroeder contributed. 

This post was updated at 12:51 p.m.