The prospect of a government shutdown Oct. 1 grew Wednesday, as the House Republican leadership promised a vote Friday on a bill that would fund government operations beyond Sept. 30, but also defund President Obama’s health-care law.
The maneuver reflects House Speaker John Boehner’s acquiescence to conservatives, who are determined to derail Obamacare before the law goes fully into effect. Enrollment of the uninsured in health plans begins Oct. 1.
“We're going to continue to do everything we can to repeal the president's failed health-care law,” Speaker Boehner said Wednesday morning.
The bill would also lock in across-the-board spending cuts knows as the “sequester.” All together, the measure is a non-starter for Democrats, and if it passes in the Republican-run House, they promise to defeat it in the Senate, where they have the majority.
But Republicans will have another chance to defund the health-care law in mid-October. Then, the federal government’s borrowing authority runs out, and Republicans have threatened to defund Obamacare as a condition for raising the debt ceiling.
Mr. Obama, speaking to business leaders Wednesday just a few blocks from the Capitol, reacted with fury to the Republican plan, accusing his opponents of trying to “extort” him to achieve their goals.
“You have never seen in the history of the United States the debt ceiling or the threat of not raising the debt ceiling being used to extort a president or a governing party,” Obama told the Business Roundtable.
He spoke derisively of a “faction” of House Republicans leading the charge to undo health-care reform and in the process, risking a government shutdown or a default on the government’s debt.
The president called on the members of the Republican-leaning business group to use their influence to get Congress back to “regular order” in how it operates – and not in a way that promises “apocalypse” every few months.
On Capitol Hill, House Republican leaders spoke with one voice, having given up in their attempt to keep defunding of Obamacare separate from budget negotiations. Senate Republicans were a different story. Some, like Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida, applauded the House leaders and accused Obama and the Democrats of threatening to shut down the government.
“The American people have made clear they want Washington to keep the government open but also need protection from Obamacare’s harmful effects,” Senator Rubio said. “Today’s announcement would accomplish what the American people have been asking of Congress.”
Others, like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina, agree that Obamacare has to go, but not at the risk of a government shutdown.
"I want to defund Obamacare. I just don't want to cut off Social Security checks and stop paying the military," Senator Graham told Huffington Post.
Polls show that if the government does shut down, the public would blame Republicans by a wide margin. Last week, a CNN poll found that 51 percent would blame the GOP and 33 percent would blame Obama. Some Republicans, like Graham, have expressed anxiety about this publicly. In 1995 and 1996, government shutdowns ended up redounding to the benefit of then-President Clinton.
But Democrats did not react gleefully to Boehner’s announcement, at least in public.
As for Obama, even before Boehner’s capitulation to the tea party wing of his caucus, efforts to woo the Republicans into a budget deal have born no fruit, and so he has opted for verbal slaps. On Monday, the president took to a White House stage to mark the five-year anniversary of the 2008 financial crisis, and he spewed vitriol at his most ardent opponents – even though a mass shooting had just taken place a few miles from the White House.
"I cannot remember a time when one faction of one party promises economic chaos if it doesn't get 100 percent of what it wants," Obama said.
At Wednesday’s briefing, White House press secretary Jay Carney suggested that the president’s past charm offensive with Republicans – including taking some out to dinner at an expensive restaurant (on his dime) – hadn’t completely failed.
“What we discovered is that there is a sincere desire by Republican lawmakers, some of them, anyway ... to make budget policy that ... reduces the deficit responsibly, but invests responsibly as well,” Mr. Carney said.
And, he said, the president will still try “all manner of ways to get to yes with Republican leaders.”
But one opportunity for bonhomie has already fallen by the wayside. Wednesday night would have been the annual congressional picnic, but a week ago, members of Congress received a blast e-mail from the White House saying the picnic had been canceled. Instead, members would be invited to bring their immediate families to the White House’s Congressional Holiday Ball in December. Usually the event is members only.
Word from the White House was that it canceled because it expected to be busy trying to get Congress to authorize airstrikes on Syria. Instead, the Syria situation has shifted to a diplomatic track, and it’s Washington that’s at war.