WASHINGTON (AP) — The GOP-controlled House is cruising toward a vote to gut President Barack Obama's health care plan as part of a temporary funding bill to prevent a partial government shutdown on Oct. 1.
While raising the possibility of a government closure, the latest GOP plan is actually aimed at avoiding one. GOP leaders are looking to shift the fight over health care to even more important legislation required to prevent the government from defaulting on its financial obligations.
Even top advocates of the strategy to defund what they call "Obamacare" by attaching it to a stopgap government funding bill acknowledge it has no future in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Senate Democrats have the votes to strip off the health care provision and kick the stopgap measure right back to the House.
Republicans in the House spent Wednesday talking about how hard they would fight to derail Obamacare on the eve of its implementation and weren't conceding that their Senate rivals would undo their handiwork. But a key force in the tea party drive against Obamacare conceded the point even before the fight officially began, but urged the House to force a government shutdown rather than retreat.
"Harry Reid will no doubt try to strip the defund language from the continuing resolution, and right now he likely has the votes to do so," said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. "At that point, House Republicans must stand firm, hold their ground and continue to listen to the American people."
A more likely outcome would be that the House would vote to pass a funding bill stripped of the health care provision and send it to Obama to avert a shutdown. Top GOP leaders in the House and Senate made it clear they have no appetite for a shutdown showdown.
"I don't think that any reasonable person thinks there's anything to be gained by a government shutdown," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said. "Rather than a shutdown of government, what we need is a Republican victory in 2014 so we can be in control. I'm not sure those are mutually compatible."
House leaders intended to set a vote for Friday.
GOP leaders telegraphed that they would likely concede to the Senate's demand for a stopgap spending bill shorn of the Obamacare provision but that they would carry on with the fight on legislation to increase the government's borrowing cap.
"There should be no conversation about shutting the government down," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said. "That's not the goal here."
The debt-limit measure, required to allow the government to pay all of its bills on time, would be brought to the House floor as early as next week and would allow the Treasury to borrow freely for one year.
Republicans vow to load that bill with a GOP wish list, including another assault on Obamacare and a provision to force the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas Gulf Coast refineries, a project that environmentalists oppose and that the Obama administration so far has refused to approve. Other elements will reflect different Republican budget priorities, including as-yet-undisclosed savings from health care and government benefit programs and steps to speed work on an overhaul of the tax code.
Democrats strongly denounced the Republican move. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said the GOP was pursuing an "insane plan." Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said, "A group of extremists is threatening to hold our government hostage."
Obama, speaking Wednesday to business executives at a meeting of the Business Roundtable, said, "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 and trying to force issues that have nothing to do with the budget and have nothing to do with the debt."
Separately, the Obama administration's budget director, Sylvia Burwell, issued a memo to department heads that said, "Prudent management requires that agencies be prepared for the possibility of a lapse" in funding.