House GOP Pushes New Gambit To Defund Obamacare

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA)
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House Republican leaders are proposing a plan in a conference meeting Tuesday to force a symbolic Senate vote on defunding Obamacare but will stop short of shutting down the federal government if the Senate vote fails, as expected.

The proposal, sketched out to TPM by a GOP leadership aide, is designed to give conservatives the vote they seek on defunding the health care law without risking a confrontation that could result in a government shutdown when money runs out on Sept. 30.

Here’s how it would work. First, the House would pass a continuing resolution to continue funding the government at sequester levels, coupled with an amendment to defund Obamacare. When the package is sent to the Senate, it would be required to vote on the defunding measure first. If the Senate votes it down, and then passes the CR with Obamacare funding, it goes straight to President Barack Obama’s desk.

No confrontation. No attempt to force Democrats to back down. No need to go back to the House for a vote on a clean continuing resolution. But conservatives get a vote.

The strategy falls far short of what conservative advocates have demanded, which is to refuse to fund the government, even if it forces a shutdown, unless Democrats surrender and agree to defund Obamacare. Indeed, the initial conservative reaction was not positive.

“When members were at home over recess, did they hear their constituents ask for legislative tricks or principled leadership?” said Chris Chocola, the president of Club For Growth. “Trying to fool Republicans into voting to fund Obamacare is even worse than offering a bill that deliberately funds it. I hope this proposal is nothing more than a bad joke and is quickly discarded. Republicans should simply do what they say they are for by passing a Continuing Resolution that doesn’t fund Obamacare.”

Senate Democratic leaders weren’t impressed with the strategy either.

“We’ll believe they can get that through when we see it,” said a Democratic leadership aide. “Making us vote on it is totally meh, the big question is whether they can sell this hocus pocus to their own guys.”

House Republican leaders recognized the political impracticality of the government shutdown threat all along, haunted by memories of the 1990s when the party lost badly in a shutdown confrontation with Bill Clinton. They devised this plan after a vigorous push during the August recess by conservatives who are committed to the shutdown threat and are anxious on the eve of the law’s rollout on Jan. 1.

“This process allows House Republicans [to] initiate the fight on Obamacare and pass a [continuing resolution] and defunding all at once,” said a Republican leadership aide. “We use our leverage to push the Democrat Senate to consider defunding. Senate Republicans have a shot at passing defunding language and should they fail also a chance to block a CR. It minimizes the risk that we lose sequester in some sort of 51 vote amendment in the Senate. It ensures that if defunding does not occur that the responsible party, namely Senate Democrats are held to account.”

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