WASHINGTON – Options for keeping the federal government open narrowed Thursday as some of the most conservative Republicans in the House rejected proposals from Speaker John Boehner, who had hoped to break a stalemate over the federal budget.
The opposition from conservatives to any measures that fall short of their goals of cutting federal spending or dismantling the national health care law left the Ohio Republican with little room to maneuver as a Monday night deadline approached for providing money to keep federal agencies running.
The administration has begun preparing for a shutdown and intends to notify federal employees today about whether they will be furloughed if nonessential governmental functions are halted.
Boehner emerged from a Republican strategy session trying to drag the president into a broader debate over fiscal policy as it became clear that Congress was running out of time. “The president says, ‘I’m not going to negotiate,’ ” the speaker said. “Well, I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t work that way.”
A White House official compared House Republicans to terrorists and said the president would not bargain with Congress on the need to raise the debt limit by Oct. 17 to keep paying the nation’s bills.
“What we’re not for is negotiating with people with a bomb strapped to their chest,” Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to the president, said on CNN. “We’re not going to do that.”
With the collapse of the GOP strategy in the Senate to stop the Affordable Care Act, debate has shifted to the House, where lawmakers are planning a weekend session with no clear path forward.
Senate Republicans had hoped to bounce the government-funding bill back to the House, where their partisan colleagues could attach more modest attempts to chisel away at the health care law, such as repealing its medical-device tax or the mandate that Americans have health insurance, or pay a fine, in 2014.
But the most conservative House Republicans shrugged off those ideas Thursday as inadequate and dismissed the leadership’s attempt to fast-forward to the next battle with the White House on the debt limit.
“For me, it’s really about finishing the debate on the CR,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., using an abbreviation for the continuing resolution to fund the government.
Boehner hoped to open a new front by shifting the focus to the debt-limit legislation. The GOP leadership loaded the debt bill with a proposed one-year delay of the health care law and other demands, including that the administration approve construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline between Canada and the United States. But conservatives said the bill did not fulfill leadership promises to cut spending and balance the budget in 10 years.
Meanwhile, an effort in the Senate to wrap up work Thursday on the government-funding bill was thwarted by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who insisted on delaying the final votes until today.
Their resistance led to a highly unorthodox display of GOP infighting on the Senate floor, reflecting the frustration of other Republicans who wanted to give Boehner more time to resolve the House stalemate.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., his voice tinged with sarcasm, asked why Cruz and Lee were delaying the vote until today, suggesting it was because they had notified supporters to watch then.
“Is it more important to the senator from Texas and the senator from Utah that the people around the country watch this vote, or is it more important to us that we have a good policy outcome?” Corker said
Cruz, an arm’s length from Corker in the chamber, engaged in a spirited argument with him before Cruz and Lee left the floor visibly upset.
“Friday is the appropriate time where the American people can be engaged,” Cruz said afterward.