The House of Representatives doubled down Wednesday on a gamble to strip funding for “Obamacare” as part of a stop-gap budget, inching the US government closer to a shutdown.
Congress has until September 30, the end of the fiscal year, to pass a temporary budget measure or see closures of all federal agencies and programs just as the administration seeks to extend the government’s legal borrowing limit and secure Syria’s chemical weapons.
House Speaker John Boehner appeared to cave in to the conservative wing of his Republican Party, which has threatened to vote against any deal on a temporary budget — known as a continuing resolution, or CR — unless it defunds President Barack Obama’s landmark health care law and keeps this year’s automatic spending cuts in place.
“This week the House will pass a CR that locks the sequester savings in and defunds Obamacare,” Boehner told reporters after meeting for an hour with his caucus.
Boehner dismissed accusations he has lost control of his caucus, many of which revolted last week against a Boehner bill that would have allowed the Senate to easily strip out language to defund Obamacare as part of the CR.
“We have a plan that they’re happy with, we’re going forward,” Boehner said. “The fight over here has been won.”
Congress has just 12 days to negotiate a temporary budget before the next looming fiscal battle: raising the country’s debt ceiling.
House Republican number two Eric Cantor warned that the fight to defund Obamacare “will continue as we negotiate the debt limit with the president and the Senate.”
He said Republicans would unveil a plan to extend the nation’s borrowing authority, currently set at $16.7 trillion and which the Congressional Budget Office says will be reached in early November, but only if it delays implementation of the health care law.
The president has insisted he will not negotiate over the debt ceiling, setting up a potentially massive fiscal clash similar to the one in 2011 which sent markets reeling and cost the United States the loss of a notch in its credit rating.
Boehner hinted that another fiscal showdown was in store.
“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.”
Senate Majority Harry Reid said he was now awaiting whatever “absurd” legislation the House might send his way, and savaged Boehner for being beholden to “anarchists” of the far-right.
“They do not want government to work on any level,” Reid said on the Senate floor.
Exasperated House Democrats said Republicans needed to do away with “fantasy politics” and work in good faith to extend the budget and the debt limit.
“This game of political chicken has to end,” said Xavier Becerra, chairman of the House Democratic caucus.