WASHINGTON — House Republicans are working to pass their own plan to reopen government and avert an impending Thursday default deadline instead of waiting for Senate leaders who are nearing agreement on a competing budget offer.
However, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, struck a cautious tone about how the House would proceed following a nearly two-hour meeting with GOP lawmakers. “There are a lot of opinions about what direction to go. There have been no decisions about what exactly we will do,” he said.
“We are very cognizant of the calendar,” added House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. “We want to find a solution that gets us moving forward and America back working again.”
House Republicans are dissatisfied with the contours of the Senate plan because they say it does not go far enough to rein in President Obama’s health care law. The government shutdown, now in its 15th day, began when House Republicans refused to advance a stopgap funding bill unless it included provisions to delay or defund the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
The Senate proposal would fund government through Jan. 15, suspend the debt ceiling until Feb. 7, and create the framework for formal budget negotiations to conclude by Dec. 15 with long-term recommendations for funding levels and deficit reduction. The plan does not include any significant changes to the Obama health care law.
House GOP aides, not authorized to speak about the new House plan until it is released publicly, said it has the same spending and debt ceiling extensions as the Senate plan. However, it reportedly includes a two-year delay of a 2.3% medical device tax and eliminates a federal subsidy for members of Congress, the president, vice president and Cabinet officials to buy health insurance under the new system.
The competing plan by the House may complicate the effort to avoid an unprecedented default. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said the U.S. will stop being able to meet all of its financial obligations on time by Oct. 17.
House Democrats are likely to oppose the plan, putting pressure on House GOP leaders to rely solely on their own members to pass it. “GOP’s latest plan is designed to torpedo the bipartisan (Senate) solution,” tweeted Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the top Democrat on the Budget Committee. “Plan is not only reckless, it’s tantamount to default.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he felt “blindsided” by the House’s new effort, which he called a “blatant attack on bipartisanship” and made clear stands no chance of Senate passage.
The White House also criticized the plan. “The president has said repeatedly that members of Congress don’t get to demand ransom for fulfilling their basic responsibilities to pass a budget and pay the nation’s bills,” said White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage, “Unfortunately, the latest proposal from House Republicans does just that in a partisan attempt to appease a small group of Tea Party Republicans who forced the government shutdown in the first place.”
Obama will meet Tuesday afternoon with House Democratic leaders.
The House GOP aides said the House plan mirrors the Senate plan to extend federal spending through January and raise the debt ceiling through February.
It also removes the Treasury secretary’s ability to use “extraordinary measures” to extend the debt ceiling deadline, restricting the executive branch’s flexibility to shift money around to pay bills.
“We think that’s a good thing, because that puts Congress back in charge on the debt and on spending,” said Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La. “We don’t want to give Treasury any wiggle room.”
Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., said he remained skeptical that the deadline to extend the debt limit is Thursday. “I don’t know what deadline is Thursday,” he said, saying the date was “artificially created by the administration.”
He added: “This didn’t come down on tablets. It’s not statute. It’s not legislation.”
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said the House will vote Tuesday on the proposal. Issa said the plan was “very similar” to the Senate proposal still under discussion. “But remember, the Senate doesn’t have a bill. So being similar to a possible bill with another possible bill isn’t saying anything.”
Boustany said there was considerable negativity about the plan when the GOP caucus meeting started, but that members began to rally around the proposal. “It’s my sense that this is the best we can put on the table right now to get past this crisis and continue the fight,” he said. “We’re on the same team. The only way to maximize our leverage right now is to act like we’re on the same team.”
House Republicans sang Amazing Grace, led by Florida Rep. Steve Southerland, at the closed door meeting Tuesday morning, Issa said.
Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., a centrist who has been vocal about the need to reopen government, said he would support the House plan. “It moves the ball forward,” he said.
“As long as it’s taken care of by Thursday,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., another moderate. “That’s all that matters.”
Reid said Tuesday that he and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., continue separate deliberations on a Senate plan.
Senate Democrats and Republicans were to be updated on the status of negotiations at their weekly Tuesday private lunches.
“I’m confident we’ll be able to reach a comprehensive agreement this week in time to avert a catastrophic default on the nation’s bills,” Reid said.