Forty-three House Republicans back bill to defund ObamaCare

Anne Wernikoff

Forty-three House Republicans on Thursday endorsed legislation that would keep the government open while defunding ObamaCare.

The sponsorship total reveals that there is a significant bloc of opposition to a plan from GOP leaders that would avoid a government shutdown by requiring that the Senate take a vote on the healthcare law.

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Conservatives decried that plan as a "gimmick," forcing House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and his team to push back a vote until at least next week.

The new measure from Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) gives House conservatives the hardline approach they have been seeking by tying the extension of basic government funding to a one-year delay in ObamaCare.

It comes just two days after House GOP leadership pitched to their conference a gambit that would require the Senate to vote on a bill defunding ObamaCare before passing a continuing resolution (CR) on government spending.

Supporters said the plan would force vulnerable Senate Democrats to take a tough vote on healthcare. Any strategy to thwart ObamaCare must involve the upper chamber, they argued.

But conservatives rejected the idea, predicting it would have no effect on the healthcare law.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a leader in the defund ObamaCare movement, blasted House Republicans earlier this summer for taking "empty, symbolic" votes to stop ObamaCare, and many conservatives are heeding his call for real action.

Graves's more tenacious alternative had 42 co-sponsors upon its introduction. That creates a big problem for GOP leaders, who can only afford 16 Republican defections on any bill that is solidly opposed by Democrats, including a stopgap spending bill. 

Speaker John Boehner on Thursday acknowledged the challenge ahead for passing a bill to keep the government funded after Oct. 1.

“There are a lot of discussions going on about how to deal with the [continuing resolution] and the issue of ObamaCare, so we’re continuing to work with our members,” Boehner (R-Ohio) said at a Capitol press conference.

“There are a million options that are being discussed by a lot of people,” Boehner said. “When we have something to report, we’ll let you know.”

Graves's bill differs from leadership's plan in several ways. For one, it would fund the government for one year instead of the three months proposed by Cantor.

The conservative measure would essentially implement the House-passed budget by increasing defense spending above sequestration levels while cutting domestic agency spending below the sequester for 2014. This feature should attract defense hawks in the GOP who are otherwise worried about a full-year CR.

In hard numbers, Cantor's plan would keep the government on a top-line level of $986 billion as dictated by the 2013 sequester. The Graves bill would use the $967 billion level called for by the 2014 sequester, which called for deeper cuts.

Graves's proposal drew support Thursday from Heritage Action and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), the architect of the original conservative defunding plan.

"The House should pass this legislation immediately and send it to the Senate," Lee said in a statement.

— Erik Wasson and Russell Berman contributed.