Would Democrats accept Obamacare delay in return for debt hike?

With a government spending bill about to return to the House with Obamacare funding intact, Boehner is turning to the debt ceiling as a means to extract concessions from the Democrats.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio speaks to reporters after a closed-door strategy session with GOP colleagues at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013.

House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday he would agree to raise the nation’s debt ceiling before the federal government hits its credit limit on Oct. 17, but only if Democrats agree to delay implementation of Obamacare for one year.

Though still in the formative stage, the House GOP’s debt bill right now would also authorize construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, permit more energy exploration on federal lands, block federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, establish a timeline for comprehensive tax reform, limit medical malpractice suits, and raise the cost of Medicare for wealthier Americans.

“We’re going to introduce a plan that ties important spending cuts and pro-growth reforms to a debt limit increase,” said Speaker Boehner at a press conference with GOP leaders.

Remember, the debt limit is a separate issue from the government spending bill that’s now in the Senate and is about to be pinged back to the House, shorn of a provision that would defund the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) for good.

The spending bill would authorize appropriations to keep the government open. It’s not yet clear whether Congress will be able to pass such legislation before the US fiscal year ends at midnight Monday.

The debt limit bill would allow the feds to continue borrowing money to pay for government spending that Congress has already approved, as well as for future outlays.

The debt ceiling is in fact the more important deadline, according to many economists. They worry that financial markets would freak out if the US appeared close to reneging on incurred debts.

But Boehner has tried to get his GOP caucus to make its stand on the debt bill, not the spending one, in large part because he believes it is an issue on which Republicans have more leverage. Shutting down the government by not approving a spending bill would be unpopular with voters, according to polls. But raising the debt ceiling? That’s something on which voters generally agree with the GOP position.

For instance, a just-released Bloomberg poll found that 61 percent of respondents agreed that “because Congress lacks discipline on spending ... it is right to require spending cuts when the debt ceiling is raised even if it risks default.”

Given that, will Democrats be willing to go along with Boehner’s yet-to-be-unveiled debt bill?

As you might imagine, right now the answer is “no,” particularly given the number of items Boehner appears willing to attach to the debt legislation.

“The more the list of demands grows, the less likely it is that Obama and Dems will ever agree to negotiate over any of this,” writes left-leaning pundit Greg Sargent at his "Plum Line" blog at the Washington Post.

The White House has consistently rejected the notion of negotiations over the debt ceiling, saying it is up to Congress to live up to its constitutional duty to pay the bills it has approved. On Thursday President Obama personally singled out the issue of a possible one-year delay in Obamacare, saying he would not accept any delay in the program’s taxes, mandates, or benefits in exchange for a debt ceiling hike.

“The closer we’ve gotten to the [Oct. 1 Obamacare implementation] date, the more irresponsible people opposed to this law have become,” said Mr. Obama at an appearance at a community college in Largo, Md.

Yet opposition to Obamacare is one of the few things that unifies Boehner’s fractious GOP caucus. With defunding dead, House Republicans are turning to smaller steps, such as the one-year delay or repeal of an Obamacare tax on medical devices, in an effort to limit a health law they insist is bad for the nation.

How will these positions be reconciled? That’s the $64,000 irresistible-force-versus-immovable-object question.

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