Focus on Senate after Obama rejects House plan
By: Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan and Burgess Everett
October 12, 2013 09:10 AM EDT
Speaker John Boehner told House Republicans Saturday morning that his efforts to strike a deal with President Barack Obama are at a standstill.
There is no agreement, Boehner said in a room in the Capitol Saturday, and no negotiations between House Republicans and the White House, since Obama rejected the speaker’s effort to lift the debt ceiling for six weeks and reopen government while setting up a budget negotiating process.
With that, a familiar dynamic has resurfaced 12 days into the government shutdown, and five days before Treasury says the nation runs out of borrowing authority: the pendulum has swung back to Senate Republicans, who now look more likely to cut a deal with Obama to end the first government shutdown since 1996, and avoid the first default on U.S. debt in history.
House Republicans are, for the first time, acknowledging that reality. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told the closed meeting of GOP lawmakers that, “Senate Republicans need to stand strong and fight,” according to sources in the room.
“It’s all good,” Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) said. “It’s now up to the Senate Republicans to stand up.”
House Republican leaders met with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Friday to receive a briefing on the state of play in the Senate.
Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) are circulating a 23-page draft bill that would increase the nation’s borrowing limit through January, and reopen government until March.
The bill would also delay Obamacare’s tax on medical devices for two years, while replacing the lost revenue by altering the way pensions are calculated. It would give increased autonomy to the heads of federal agencies under the constraints of sequester spending levels and provide funding increases for fire suppression, a key item for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
But the clock is the biggest enemy for all sides. It’s unclear if a deal brokered by the Senate could come together before Thursday, when the $16.7 trillion debt limit must be boosted, according to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. House Republican leadership sources say their offer of a six-week debt limit increase might regain favor if a Senate-brokered deal does not come together before that deadline.
The House goes out of session Saturday, and will return Monday evening.
Obama appeared open to the basic outline of the Collins-Manchin plan, although the White House has not formally endorsed it. The president told Senate Republicans Friday that the medical device tax is not central to his signature domestic achievement — the Affordable Care Act.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Saturday will move forward with a procedural vote to lift the debt ceiling through 2014 with no policy add-ons. That vote is not expected to reach the key 60-vote threshold needed to proceed to debate. But the legislation may be altered later to reflect any compromise struck in the Senate.
Neither Senate proposal - the Democrats’ “clean” debt-ceiling increase or the Collins-Manchin framework - seems like it would be popular in the House, which has trouble passing its own plans.
Many House GOP conservatives see ending the device tax as going after a “shiny object” instead of focusing on truly altering the law, one conservative Republican told POLITICO.
“We have to see what’s in it,” House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said in a brief interview. “We have to see what it finally looks like if they can’t get something.”
“Now the president is trying to see perhaps to see if he can get some Republicans in the Senate to give him a blank check and I know Sen. Cornyn and Sen. [Ted] Cruz of Texas [are] going to be a ‘no’ on that and I would hope Sen. McConnell will get the rest of the Senate Republicans to back him up too,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas).
While the medical device tax repeal isn’t completely popular, House Republicans have eased their demands for repealing Obamacare. In a brief interview with POLITICO, Cantor said he wants to delay the individual mandate fine for one year – a far cry from the House GOP’s opening gambit of defunding the entire law.
“We believe strongly that there needs to be some fairness in the way the Obamacare law is being implemented,” Cantor told POLITICO. “We believe very simply there ought to be a suspension of the individual penalty. They did it for business.”
Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said there’s “bipartisan support” for repealing the medical device tax and ending the Independent Payment Advisory Board for Medicare.
“There’s the possibility you could suspend the fine associated with Obamacare,” Gardner said. “There’s plenty of room. The American people are seeing with their very own eyes what Obamacare means to them.”
Boehner, who is at the center of this mayhem, is described as calm by friends and allies. He dined on Friday night with Republican lawmakers in a first-floor room in the Capitol called the “Board of Ed.” It was the room in which former House Speaker Sam Rayburn met with his allies — including Lyndon Johnson. The room smelled of Chinese food and cigarettes. Rep. Steve Womak (R-Ark.) was there, as was Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), a close Boehner ally who chairs the House Education and Workforce Committee.
Kline said they spoke about a “wide range of subjects, certainly including what might be considered under a debt ceiling increase, what might be considered under a continuing resolution, but fundamentally people talking as friends, and that’s it.”
Asked if something would happen in the next few days, Kline said: “I certainly hope so.”
“The speaker is very upbeat, he is a very positive leader and he’s hopeful things will happen,” Kline said, before leaving the Capitol late Friday evening.
After leaving the speaker’s office on Friday afternoon, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called Boehner a “national treasure.” Graham has been quietly reaching out to House members to reach an agreement that Republicans in both chambers can support.
“I don’t know how he does it. I mean really, honest to God, he’s got the best disposition for that job as anyone I can think of,” said Graham, a former House member and longtime friend of Boehner’s.