WASHINGTON – The Republican Party’s right wing on Thursday blocked a strategy by House Speaker John Boehner for navigating a series of deadlines to keep the government funded and avoid a first-ever U.S. debt default.
Boehner and his leadership team revealed the first step of that plan to rank-and-file members early Thursday, urging conservatives to shift their assault on President Barack Obama’s health care law to the coming fight over the federal debt limit. That would allow lawmakers in to try to reach agreement on a plan to fund federal agencies into the new fiscal year, which begins Tuesday, and avoid a shutdown.
But about two dozen hard-liners rejected that approach, saying they will not talk about the debt limit until the battle over government funding is resolved.
“Quite frankly, I think that’s primarily where we need to be putting our attention,” said Rep. Tom Graves, a Georgia Republican who has led the drive in the House to use the threat of a shutdown to defund the health insurance initiative, Obama’s signature legislative achievement.
Late Thursday afternoon, Boehner convened an emergency meeting of his leadership team to try to hash things out. They emerged with no answers, and no clear path forward for any piece of legislation, either to keep the lights on in Washington or to make sure the Treasury Department can continue to pay the nation’s bills by raising the borrowing limit.
“We’re getting a lot of feedback, so there hasn’t been a decision that’s been made yet,” said Rep. Peter Roskam of Illinois, a top vote-counter for the House GOP. “Our members are . . . very reasonable, they’re thoughtful and they want to move forward. But they want to move forward on something that’s significant.”
As Republicans struggled in the House, GOP hard-liners also were blocking progress in the Senate, where most members of both parties were ready to vote late Thursday on a plan to keep the government operating through Nov. 15.
But Republican Sens. Mike Lee and Ted Cruz objected. Although both men voted earlier this week to advance the measure, they argued Thursday that Republicans should now unite to kill it.
That prompted an angry Sen. Bob Corker, a fellow Republican, to appear in the Senate chamber for a remarkable debate in which he accused Cruz of blocking the late-night vote and delaying it until Friday so he could “turn this into a show” for his supporters from the tea party movement and conservative political organizations, such as Heritage Action for America.
“I’m understanding the reason we’re waiting is that y’all have sent out releases and emails and you want everybody to be able to watch,” Corker said. “And that is taking priority over getting legislation back to the House so they can take action before the country’s government shuts down.”
Cruz declined to address that allegation, and accused Corker of assisting Democrats in their effort to strip the House-passed bill of provisions to defund the health care law.
“It would be fantastic if Senate Republicans could show the same unity” as House Republicans did in passing the measure last week, Cruz said.
The Senate is now expected to approve a stripped-down government funding bill Friday and send it back to the House, where its fate is unclear. GOP leaders insisted Thursday that the House would not approve a simple funding bill without conservative sweeteners.
“I do not see that happening,” Boehner said.