House to vote first on Senate plan
By: Burgess Everett and Jake Sherman and Manu Raju
October 16, 2013 09:30 AM EDT
The House will vote first on an emerging Senate proposal to open government and lift the debt ceiling, a move that would expedite bipartisan legislation developed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The move means that there is now a clear path to end the first government shutdown in 17 years, and the country now appears closer to avoiding the first potential economy-shaking default on U.S. debt.
If the House passes the bill first and sends it to the upper chamber, it would eliminate some burdensome procedural hurdles in the Senate and require just one procedural roll call with a 60-vote threshold needed to advance the bill toward final passage in the Senate.
It could be an extraordinarily risky play for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), because it’s far from clear any Senate proposal would garner the majority of the House Republican Conference. House Republicans have clung to the so-called Hastert Rule, a mantra that the House speaker should not try to pass a bill that doesn’t have the support of the “majority of the majority.” In this case, that would mean 117 Republicans must support the bill to avoid getting crosswise with the rule. Top GOP sources say it’s unlikely they will reach that level of support.
But the fact that House Republicans are now planning to go that route marks a stunning reversal for the speaker who had backed his conservative wing’s drive to gut Obamacare as part of the government shutdown fight, now in its third week.
It still is not assured that Congress will send President Barack Obama a bill to sign by Thursday, when the Treasury Department warns the country will start running out of cash to pay its bills for the first time in history. Any senator can also hold up the bill in the Senate past the Thursday deadline, but originating the legislation in the House is the fastest path toward passage for lawmakers and is a sign of urgency in the Capitol.
The bill will barely scathe Obamacare, however, and putting it on the floor will mark a huge concession by the House after sparking a 16-day government shutdown over insistence that the health care law be defunded or delayed as a condition to keep the government open. Dozens of conservatives in the House will be disappointed by the proposal and House Speaker John Boehner will need Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to deliver a bevy of votes to pass the bill. Meanwhile Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) haven’t divulged whether they might hold up the bill in the Senate.
Reid (D-Nev.) and McConnell (R-Ky.) are very close to finishing an agreement to reopen the government through Jan. 15, lift the debt ceiling through Feb. 7 and develop a bicameral budget committee that would be required to develop a conference report by Dec. 13. The deal would also deliver back pay to furloughed federal workers, require income verification for people seeking health-insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act and also allow the Treasury Department to use extraordinary measures to pay the nation’s bills if Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling by Feb. 7.
McConnell was pushing hard to include language to give federal agencies more flexibility to implement the sequester, something Reid was objecting to Wednesday morning, sources say. Democrats argue that provision would make it harder to eliminate the sequester in the future, so it’s unlikely to get into the final package. A new round of sequester cuts will be enacted in January without further congressional action, mostly hitting the defense side of spending.
The leaders will brief their caucuses on the emerging deal Wednesday and the Senate will convene at noon.