Government Shutdown Looms, As House GOP Leaders Face Rebellion

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Zhang Jun / Xinhua Press / Corbis

House Speaker John Boehner speaks to reporters after a GOP meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 10, 2013.

Facing yet another conservative rebellion, House Republican leaders postponed a vote on the continuing resolution to fund the government Wednesday, setting up a dramatic showdown at the end of September to prevent a government shutdown. A preliminary vote had been expected Thursday.

The Republican leadership hoped to fund the government with a bill that included a provision to defund the Affordable Care Act. But the structure of the plan would have provided a way for the Senate to strip out the defunding language, making it an unpalatable option for the most conservative wing of the party, which loathes the idea of the Democratic-controlled Senate determining the fate of the defund ObamaCare movement. With the House only in its third day after the August recess, the GOP leadership stressed that all it needs is more time.

“It’s a complex piece of legislation. It’s a complex plan. Members and staff have had relatively little time to process it. As they learn about it, think about it, most realize it has the greatest likelihood of leading the best possible result,” said a House GOP leadership aide. “I’m not aware of any plans to make any changes at this time.”

The Tea Party elements of the party say they are not alone in their battle with the leadership, which had hoped to rally the caucus to form a united front this week. “They weren’t close,” said Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican from Kentucky. “I would say there were probably 50 or 80 (House Republicans) at least against it.” Other options include inserting the health care provision in the funding bill directly, which could shutdown the government after certain rejection in the Senate.

“There is division within our conference on the correct and proper strategy to advance a shared goal,” said Rep. Scott Rigell, a Republican from Virginia, who whipped no votes yesterday. He compared the House to a bus. “I don’t exactly have control of the steering wheel and I’m not sure any one individual does, even Speaker Boehner,” he said.

The latest example of GOP intraparty division gave Democrats a chance to take open shots. “The Republicans are in turmoil. They can’t get their act together. The far right is holding everybody hostage. They are threatening to close down the government,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.). “[They are] threatening our full faith and credit on debts that we owe. They could drive our whole economy off a cliff because of their intense hatred of Obama and the Affordable Care Act. I think that if they can’t figure out how to be somewhat responsible, since they have the power in the House of Representatives, that they’re looking for a disaster politically in 2014.”

While Republicans likely will control the House after the next election, moderate Republicans did admit that their latest kerfuffle showed a sharp division, a troubling prospect as Congress could face difficult votes this fall on raising the debt ceiling, immigration reform and the farm bill.

“We’re obviously not where we need to be or we would have voted on it,” said Rep. Tom Cole, the deputy majority whip. He said the likely next step would be a Republican conference to discuss alternatives. Wednesday’s developments, he added, “probably increases the chance that we are here the last week of September.”