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Obamacare Defunding Fight Could Threaten Boehner Leverage, Message

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call
With 60 Republicans already pushing Boehner, above, to defund Obamacare in any spending bill, the speaker may not be able to cobble together a House majority on a bill that Obama would sign without Democratic votes.

“Obviously it falls into part of a narrative: just lurching from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis,” Hammill said. “It’s almost like clockwork.”

Aides note that the shutdown talk steps on the GOP leadership’s current messaging strategy, which has been focused on accusing the White House and Democrats as the ones threatening a shutdown so they can spend more.

In the meantime, the fight represents another bruising skirmish in the ongoing GOP civil war between leaders and insurgent conservatives backed by the Club for Growth, Heritage Action for America and a number of conservative talk show hosts who are fanning the shutdown flames.

If past is prologue, the trio of Boehner, the White House and Senate Democrats will find a way to muddle along and avert a shutdown.

The question for Boehner is whether he will initially include an Obamacare defunding rider as a sop to conservatives to get a bill to the Senate — knowing full well that the Senate would then amend the bill, stripping the Obamacare rider and perhaps adding more spending to boot.

Alternatively, Boehner would have to cut a deal with Democrats initially. Many Republicans want to keep the stopgap bill to $967 billion — the level prescribed by the 2011 Budget Control Act after sequester. But House Republican appropriators are eyeing a short-term bill aimed $21 billion higher, or $988 billion, the same level as this year and a number more likely to attract Democratic votes.

Democrats and the White House, meanwhile, still haven’t decided how much hardball they want to play.

While White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Monday said the White House doesn’t want a shutdown, he didn’t clarify what the president would sign. So far the White House has threatened to veto every House spending bill absent a larger budget agreement, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said last week he would do whatever he could to oppose a CR at the $967 billion sequester level.

The House Republican appropriations aide warned that defunding Obamacare through the CR would simply end negotiations. The aide said the “real negotiation, however, is not on a CR, but will and should be on a larger deal over undoing sequestration.”

The aide continued that a “clean, short-term, no-drama CR at current levels” should have Democratic support already; the only haggling point would be how long you keep the government funded so that appropriators from both chambers could finish their work.

But more than 60 House Republicans, led by North Carolina Republican Mark Meadows, called on Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., to defund Obamacare “in any relevant appropriations bill brought to the House floor in the 113th Congress, including any continuing appropriations bill.”

However, as Ryan Ellis — the tax policy director of Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform — points out, “distinctions matter here.”

Ellis told CQ Roll Call on Monday that while Americans for Tax Reform is against the ultimatum letter sent by Lee and others, ATR would “cheerfully support” the House letter.

“There are many conservatives who would say they want to have a vote on Obamacare defunding in a CR, but who have not said they will vote against any CR which lacks such defunding,” Ellis said. “Those are two very different things.”

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