A majority of the House Republican conference is pushing their leaders to block funds for ‘Obamacare’ when government funding requires renewal on Oct. 1, a demand that could lead to a government shutdown weeks before Election Day.
Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) appeared to brush off the demand on Tuesday.
In a letter (PDF) dated July 18, some 127 House GOP lawmakers urged Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) not to permit “any legislation” to come to the floor that includes Affordable Care Act implementation funds. The implied message: shut down the government unless Democrats agree to defund President Obama’s signature law.
“Since much of the implementation of ObamaCare is a function of the discretionary appropriations process, and since most of the citizens we represent believe that ObamaCare should never go into effect, we urge you not to bring to the House floor in the 112th Congress any legislation that provides or allows funds to implement ObamaCare through the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Health and Human Services, or any other federal entity,” the 127 lawmakers wrote (emphasis in original).
It’s a tall order — one that would spark a standoff with the Senate and a veto threat from President Obama. And it puts Boehner in a precarious situation because top Republicans prefer a continuing resolution to fund the government at existing levels, lest they be blamed for inciting a shutdown so close to an election. Complicating matters is that the letter was signed by fifth-ranking GOP leader, Rep. Tom Price (GA), his office confirmed.
Asked about it Tuesday, Boehner signaled he won’t accept their proposition.
“I expect we’ll have an agreement with the Senate on a CR. As you all know, CRs do contain some changes but usually not many changes,” he told reporters. “But our goal would be to make sure the government is funded and any political talk of a government shutdown is put to rest.”
He added: “We’ve been fighting — the House has voted now 33 times to defund, repeal and change Obamacare.”
Theoretically Boehner could enlist Democratic support and pass a continuing resolution. But he has typically refused to pass legislation without buy-in from his conservative rank and file members, for fear of establishing a rift that could spark a rebellion against him.
If House GOP leadership sides with their right-wing members, Senate Democrats will blame Republicans for using the appropriations process to make outrageous demands. The history of these battles suggests the public tends to punish the GOP in the polls, which even arch-conservative Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) has expressed concern over.
All of which means Boehner must either subdue his right-wing members long enough to get through the election, or place his party’s November hopes in serious jeopardy.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.