House Rallies Around Obamacare Delay, Bringing Shutdown in Sight

National Journal

House Republicans on Saturday rallied around a short-term measure that would fund the government through Dec. 15 while delaying the implementation of Obamacare for one year, a politically risky proposal that unites the Republican conference but could bring the government within reach of a shutdown.

The plan, which also includes an amendment to repeal the medical device tax and a separate provision to pay military members in the event of a shutdown, also puts the ball quickly back into the Senate's court.

"They might have to come back from their vacation," said Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia, who has led the charge for a delay of Obamacare. "Harry Reid has to now decide if he's going to continue forcing this bad law on the American people."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, though, dismissed the House's plan outright. The Senate will reject the delay of the Affordable Care Act as well as the medical device tax, which Reid last week called "stupid."

"Today's vote by House Republicans is pointless," Reid said in a statement. "Republicans must decide whether to pass the Senate's clean CR, or force a Republican government shutdown."

To avoid a partial government shutdown, both chambers of Congress must reach an agreement by Tuesday, the start of the new fiscal year.

The House will hold a series of votes Saturday on the precise provisions of the bill, and final passage is expected by Saturday evening. The Senate has adjourned until Monday afternoon, and senators are not expected to return early to respond to the House's latest proffer.

Cheers erupted in a closed-door meeting after Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, made it clear the House would not give-up in the stand-off with the Senate and the White House.

"Let's roll," an exuberant Rep. John Culberson, R-Tex., shouted as colleagues cheered Boehner. An unfortunate analogy, perhaps, because Culberson later explained he was evoking the battle cry of passengers who tried to wrest control of United Airlines Flight 93 from terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001. That was the fourth plane to go down in that day's terrorist attacks, crashing in a Pennsylvania field and killing all on board.

Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas went on the House floor shortly after the meeting and called Boehner "our great speaker."

Those in the room Saturday said there was uncertainty over what Boehner was going to say about the House's options, given the Senate's rejection of an earlier House CR containing language to defund the Affordable Care Act. That language was stripped out Friday, providing a "clean" bill dealing only with government funding.

But, as lawmakers described it, Boehner walked up to the microphone and proceeded to matter-of-factly detail what his new strategy would entail.

"People went bonkers," with approval, said Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz. "They were very excited."

And as the meeting adjourned, the accolades for Boehner kept on coming. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, a vocal critic of leadership who just two days ago trashed Boehner's proposed debt-ceiling maneuver, exited the meeting and flashed a big "thumbs up" sign.

Even Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who often clashes with leadership and is known to regularly shun the media, ran toward a horde of reporters and declared: "It's a fabulous bill!"

Despite the enthusiasm, it's clear that given the warnings from the White House and Reid, Saturday's vote could bring the government one giant step closer to a shutdown. But House Republicans – including some who met privately this week with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., who has led the charge against Obamacare – said Saturday they were not worried that extending the battle with the Senate might send the nation spiraling into a shutdown.

"Republicans will probably be blamed for whatever happens," said Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz. "So, what remains for us is to do the right thing."

In fact, some GOP lawmakers argued that by acting quickly, they were doing the Senate a favor.

"We're here for the weekend, we might as well work and get our job done – and give them plenty of time to get their job done," said Rep. John Fleming, R-La.

Added Rep. Steve Scalise, chairman of the Republican Study Committee: "We have a good plan ... and we're moving quickly. The Senate, if they're serious about not wanting a government shutdown, they ought to address this quickly."

The entirety of the House Republican Conference seemed supportive of the bill, and some members went as far as to predict unanimous GOP support for the proposal. (They only Republican defector on the bill the House sent to the Senate earlier this month was Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia, who opposed the continued sequester cuts written into the bill.)

There is also optimism among Republicans that some Senate Democrats will rally to support certain provisions of the bill. Multiple GOP lawmakers specifically cited West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin's support for delaying Obamacare, and suggested that other red-state Democrats would be pressured to follow suit.

Lawmakers said that the GOP bill and its amendments will be structured in such a way that if the Senate strips out the Obamacare language, it would require the bill to come back to the House. "The Speaker made that very clear," Salmon said. "If they change the bill in any way, it would have to come back to the House."

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