Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said for the first time on Thursday that the House is unlikely to accept a clean spending bill from the Senate, increasing the chances of a government shutdown after Sept. 30.
“I don’t see that happening,” Boehner told reporters at a Capitol press conference.
The Senate is expected to strip out the House GOP’s provision defunding ObamaCare, but it may not pass the bill until Saturday, given the House little time to act before a shutdown.
Republican leaders broadly want to shift the fiscal battle to the debt ceiling, but they may try one more round of legislative ping-pong on the spending bill to satisfy the demands of conservatives and try to extract a modest concession from Democrats.
Some rank-and-file members emerging from a closed-door meeting Thursday morning questioned the strategy of pushing major policy fights to the debt ceiling as opposed to the spending bill. The Treasury Department has said it will need more borrowing authority by Oct. 17, and it is widely understood that a default on the debt would be far more calamitous than a government shutdown.
“I’d rather be discussing the CR," Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said.
“For me, it is really about finishing the debate on the continuing resolution in the next couple of days,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who added that he thought “fighting over the CR is a lot more effective tool than over the debt ceiling.”
On the other hand, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said he was eager to get past the shutdown debate and move on the debt limit, where he believed the GOP enjoyed significantly better leverage.
“I think you need to just get past the CR as quickly as possible," he said. "I don’t think we’re going to let ourselves get jammed by the Senate, I think we’re going to respond when we get something, and then we’ll see where we go."
Boehner refused to say what the House might try to attach to the spending bill. He also did not address the possibility that the House would move a short, one-week continuing resolution to buy more time for the two chambers to negotiate a longer compromise.
The Senate bill would extend government funding until Nov. 15. The House bill the Senate is amending would have extended funding for a month later.
“I’ve made it clear now for months and months and months that we have no interest in seeing the government shut down, but we’ve got to address the spending problems that we have in this town,” Boehner said. “So there will be options available to us. There is not going to be any speculation on what we are going to do or not do until the Senate passes their bill.”
Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) said that leadership did not say what it would like to attach to the second-round continuing resolution.
“The leadership doesn’t go in there and say this is what we are going to do. It’s all speculation,” he said. “I don’t think there is quite a sense on what the plan is.”
Among the options that Republicans have discussed internally are attaching a repeal of the healthcare law’s medical device tax, a move that won bipartisan support in the Senate during its budget debate earlier this year. The GOP is also mulling a provision that would eliminate subsidies under the healthcare law for members of Congress and their staff.
Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.), who authored the original spending bill's ObamaCare defunding provision, said there are a “variety” of responses on the next continuing resolution that are being discussed and they may include dismantling pieces of ObamaCare.
“The goal is too keep the government open while protecting the American people from ObamaCare and there are a number of alternatives to accomplishing that,” he said.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said he could get behind a continuing resolution with a provision delaying ObamaCare or repealing the medical device tax.
Erik Wasson, Peter Schroeder and Bernie Becker contributed to this story.
This story was updated at 11:25 a.m.