Susan Davis, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON-House Republicans will vote Friday on a stopgap spending measure that defunds President Obama's health care law, setting up a confrontation with Democrats that could force a government shutdown at the end of the month.
"The law is a train wreck," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said following a closed-door meeting Wednesday in which the leadership briefed lawmakers on their plan to approve a spending bill through Dec. 15 that includes legislation to defund the health care law as well as legislation to prioritize debt payments if Congress does not raise the nation's debt ceiling by mid-October.
GOP leaders were forced to include stricter defunding language in the spending bill after conservatives made clear they would not support a bill that did not specifically cut funding for the health care law. "We listened to our colleagues over the course of the last week. We have a plan that they're happy with. We're going forward," Boehner said.
The outcome is likely to be the same: Senate Democrats will reject the language regarding the health care law and return to the House a spending measure without strings attached to keep the government running. Whether or not the House approves the returned measure will determine whether the government will begin shutdown protocols on Oct 1.
"House Republicans have decided to pursue a path away from the center, away from compromise," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday, calling the House GOP's latest budget plan one that increases the chances for "a wholly unnecessary and damaging shutdown of the government."
Boehner said Republicans are not seeking a shutdown but want to use the budget deadlines to extract additional fiscal changes from Democrats. "There should be no conversation about shutting the government down," Boehner said, "That's not the goal here. Our goal here is to cut spending and to protect the American people from Obamacare. It's as simple as that."
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., also said a shutdown was not in the GOP's interest, but said Republicans want to force action in the Senate on the health care law. "We have some leverage there," he said, "We have some Democratic vulnerabilities. We have a lot of Democrats who don't want to have to vote on this, and that frankly might want to work with us in some way to not have to face that choice, but we'll never know that if we can't get the vehicle over there to them to have a chance to deal with it."
The GOP plan is two-fold. Following the vote on the spending bill this week, House Republicans will vote as early as next week on a legislative package to raise the nation's borrowing limit for one year in exchange for delaying the implementation of the health care law, an agreement to begin construction of the Keystone oil pipeline, and measures to overhaul the tax code and lower energy prices, among others, said Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.
The House is scheduled to be in recess next week, but GOP leaders have warned lawmakers that the break could be canceled to address the budget deadlines. Republicans emerging from Wednesday's meeting with the understanding that the tougher showdown is likely to come on the debt ceiling vote.
"Our perception is the debt ceiling is where the success will be," said Rep. John Fleming, R-La.
Senate Democrats and the White House have so far held firm that they will not negotiate with Republicans on either the stopgap spending measure or the debt ceiling vote. Obama reiterated that pledge Wednesday in a speech before the Business Roundtable, which represents the nation's top executives.
"We're not going to set up a situation where the full faith and credit of the United States is put on the table every year or every year and a half and we go through some sort of terrifying financial brinksmanship because of some ideological arguments that people are having about some particular issue of the day. We're not going to do that," Obama said.