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Boehner caves to Tea Party on defunding Obamacare

Caving to the party’s conservative wing, Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday that House Republicans will risk a government shutdown in their ongoing push to
Image: John Boehner
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio pauses during news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013.

Caving to the party’s conservative wing, Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday that House Republicans will risk a government shutdown in their ongoing push to defund Obamacare—an effort that remains almost certainly doomed to fail.

Speaking at a Capitol Hill press conference after a closed-door meeting with his caucus, Boehner said Republican leaders plan to vote this week on a measure authored by Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia, a Tea Party favorite, that would keep the government funded beyond the end of the month, while removing funding for the healthcare law.

“We're going to do everything to repeal the healthcare law,” Boehner said. “We're going to pass a [continuing resolution] that will defund Obamacare.”

The government will shut down on Oct. 1 unless lawmakers can come to an agreement to keep it funded beyond then.

Graves has said that some 70 House Republicans—a significant bloc of the 233 total members of the House GOP caucus—have signed on as co-sponsors. But GOP leaders had until now resisted the Graves strategy, pointing out that it won’t succeed in stopping Obamacare, which was signed into law over three years ago. That’s because any measure that strips out funding for the law would be rejected by the Democratic-controlled Senate—and the White House has promised a veto in any case.

Still, for Boehner, passing the Graves plan now would at least temporarily take the heat off, and allow him to say the House had done its part in the push to defund Obamacare. That would then put the burden on Senate conservatives like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, leaders of the anti-Obamacare campaign, who have lately been pointing fingers at the House.

"The fight over here has been won," Boehner said. "The House has voted 40 times to repeal Obamacare. Time for the Senate to do same."

But it wouldn’t solve the problem of how to keep the government running past the end of this month. To do that, House Republican leaders would have to propose a new continuing resolution that both funds the government and keeps Obamacare in tact.

That measure likely wouldn’t win support from a majority of House GOPers, but it could pass with votes from Democrats. But Boehner would again come under intense pressure from his party’s Tea Party wing not to pass a funding resolution with mostly Democratic votes. If he went ahead and did so, his job as speaker could be at risk.

"There should be no conversation on shutting government down," Boehner said. "That's not the goal. There's no interest on our part on shutting the government down."

Even if Boehner finds a way out of the impasse, the no-holds-barred campaign to block Obamacare won’t end. Some have said that rather than risking a government shutdown, they’d prefer to use the debt ceiling as leverage to de-fund Obamacare. If lawmakers don’t vote before mid-October to increase the federal government’s ability to borrow money, the U.S. could be unable to pay its debts.

“We aim to put a stop to Obamacare before it costs one more job!,” Rep. Eric Cantor, the House GOP No. 2, said at Wednesday’s press conference. “And that fight will continue as we negotiate the debt limit.”