With Washington hurtling toward the brink of another fiscal crisis, House Speaker John Boehner set up a major showdown with the Democratic-led Senate when he announced today that the House of Representatives will vote as soon as Friday to send a continuing resolution to the Senate that permanently defunds the Affordable Care Act.
"We're going to continue do everything we can to repeal the president's failed health care law," Boehner, R-Ohio, said during a news conference today at the Capitol. "The law is a train wreck. The president has protected American big business. It's time to protect American families from this unworkable law."
After Republican leadership pulled a plan last week to force the Senate into an up-or-down vote to defund the health care law, GOP leaders worked throughout the past week to reach consensus on a plan that they hope will avert a possible government shutdown.
This time, the Republican leadership is including the Defund Obamacare Act, H.R. 2682, which was introduced by Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in July. The House could vote as soon as Friday on the plan, which would fund the government through Dec. 15, locking in sequestration savings at a FY2013 rate of $986 billion while permanently defunding the president's signature legislative achievement.
The health care law has been taking effect in stages since 2010. New insurance exchanges take effect Oct. 1, allowing Americans without coverage to purchase subsidized plans in a central marketplace.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today that the Senate is standing by as it awaits a "strange and weird" decision from the House of Representatives that will likely cater to a group of conservative Republicans whom Reid described as "anarchists."
"We're now waiting to see what the House of Representatives is going to do, how absurd it is going to be what they're going to send us," Reid, D-Nev., said on the Senate floor. "They do not want government to work on any level, not the local level, not the state level, and certainly not here. Any day that's a bad day for government is a cheering day for them."
President Obama went further, today accusing House Republicans of extortion. "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 … and trying to force issues that have nothing to do with the budget and have nothing to do with the debt," he told the Business Roundtable, a nonpartisan association of top American CEOs.
Rank-and-file Republicans rejected an alternative plan last week because it included a gimmick where the Senate could reject a defund resolution and send a clean CR straight to the president. Because the Graves-Cruz Defund language is now in the base bill, the continuing resolution would have to come back to the House for further consideration if the Senate strips it out.
Although the Democrat-led Senate is unlikely to accept the bold move, Boehner would not predict what would happen next if the Senate restored funding for the health care law.
"I'm not going to speculate on what the Senate's going to do or not do or what we're going to do or not do because it's very premature," he said. "There should be no conversation about shutting the government down. 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. There's no interest on our part in shutting the government down."
The continuing resolution runs out Sept. 30.
Sen. Ted Cruz, who wrote the companion legislation in the upper chamber, called the developments "terrific news" and commended House leadership "for listening to the people" but he urged the House GOP not to cave if the Senate sends an amended bill back to the House that includes funding for the health care law.
"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," Cruz, R-Texas, wrote in a statement. "At that point, House Republicans must stand firm, hold their ground, and continue to listen to the American people."
The House is also expected next week to introduce legislation to increase the debt limit for one year while delaying implementation of the health care bill for a year as well. That bill could be considered "as soon as the end of the month," aides said, although a vote won't likely occur until early October.
While President Obama has insisted he will not negotiate with Congress on the debt limit, Boehner was adamant that any increase to the nation's credit limit also address the country's exploding debt.
"For decades Congresses and presidents have used the debt limit for legislation to cut spending, and even President Obama worked with us two years ago in the debt-limit negotiations to put controls on spending," Boehner said. "This year is not going to be any different."
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor also said that the GOP's debt-limit proposal could include measures to advance tax overhaul, the Keystone XL pipeline and "a variety of other measures designed to lower energy prices, simplify our tax system and get our economy going for the middle class working people of this country.
"House Republicans will not ignore the problem of our debt or the problems facing the working middle class of this country," Cantor, R-Va., said. "We ask that this president finally engage with Congress and work with us on behalf of the American families."