WASHINGTON – Congressman Charlie Dent's push for a House spending bill that would keep the government running with no strings attached -- and no attept to alter Obamacare -- hasn't won over House Republican leaders.
Dent, a moderate Allentown Republican, has been trying to round up votes from middle-ground Republicans and Democrats for a "clean" spending bill that would fund government operations before tonight's midnight deadline. (see below for more).
But House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) said "that's not going to happen."
At least not today. Boehner spoke after an afternoon meeting of House Republicans. The party settled on a third plan to tie a new spending bill to changes related to President Obama's health law, according to multiple reports.
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R., N.J.), of South Jersey, said there was almost no support for Dent's plan among House Republicans.
"I don’t think there’s any measurable support at all," Smith said after the meeting.
U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan (R., Pa.), of Delaware County, said "I imagine there'd be support for it, I just don't know how and when we get there."
Dent has argued that there is a silent group of roughly 180 Republicans who would prefer a spending bill that keeps the government open to a shutdown.
Smith, though, called the latest GOP plan "modest" reform and blamed Obama and Senate Democrats for refusing to negotiate.
"We’ve had a tone deaf White House that does not want to be reasonable," Smith said. He said Republicans are working to fix "an egregiously flawed law that was rammed through Congress."
Senate Democrats have repeatedly said they will reject any House spending bill that also tries to undercut pieces of Obamacare. They have accused Republicans of using "blackmail" to get their way after losing the 2012 presidential election and a Supreme Court fight over Obama's health law. Many Democrats have said that if they negotiate over a short-term spending bill now, Republicans will only have more drastic demands for a coming fight over raising the federal debt limit.
Still, Republicans plan to vote tonight for a plan that would fund the government, delay by one year the mandate that individuals have health insurance ("the individual mandate") and force members of Congress, Hill staffers, Obama and administration appointees to pay for their own health coverage on Obamacare's health exchanges -- without any subsidies from the federal government, which, as an employer, currently covers much of staffers' health coverage.
Republicans see such subsidies as an "exemption" for DC staff, though those aides face more stringent requirements than most workers. While most employees are allowed to keep the health coverage their employer provides, Hill staffers are required to enroll in the exchanges. Members of both parties have pushed to allow the government to continue contributing to staffers' health coverage by covering some of the costs. The House plan would bar that contribution, saying most Americans won't get such subsidies.
Breaking with House conservatives, U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, an Allentown Republican, is working to build GOP support for a plan that President Obama would accept and that could avert the government shutdown looming at midnight.
Dent, a leading (and sometimes lonely) moderate voice, said he does not want to see the government close and that it’s unlikely that the Democratic-controlled Senate will accept the conditions House Republicans have attached to a spending bill needed to keep the government running.
Instead, he’s working to rally votes for a “clean” spending bill that would fund the government, with no other strings attached, as Obama and Senate Democrats have insisted on.
"I think the overwhelming majority of members in the House Republican conference does not want the government to shutdown and are willing to vote to do that,” Dent said Monday morning as lawmakers arrived for what is expected to be a tense dozen hours leading to the midnight deadline.
He later told CNN that he believes 180 to 190 House Republicans "have a very serious sense of governance" but that there are "a few dozen who don’t have that same sense of governance."
Dent thought the 180 or so might not all vote for a clean spending bill (presumably because of politics in their districts), but would all privately favor its approval. A bill needs 218 House votes for approval.
To pass a “clean” funding measure, though, Dent would have to convince Republican leaders to defy a conservative bloc that has vowed to oppose any spending bill that does not take a significant bite out of Obamacare, the president’s health law. So far, GOP House leaders have agreed to the conservative group’s demands, which Obama has rejected.
Dent hopes that he can gather enough moderate Republicans and Democrats to pass a short-term spending bill today. A similar House coalition voted earlier this year to support deals on the fiscal cliff and a relief package for superstorm Sandy, outweighing the opposition of the GOP’s most conservative bloc.
Many Republican Congressmen from moderate districts around Philadelphia – including U.S. Reps. Pat Meehan, Mike Fitzpatrick and Jim Gerlach in Pennsylvania and Jon Runyan and Frank LoBiondo in South Jersey – were part of those earlier coalitions. Their actions pleased moderates but angered conservatives.
Dent will make his pitch at a 2 p.m. meeting of House Republicans.
He favors a repeal of the medical device tax and delay of Obamacare’s “individual mandate” requiring nearly all Americans to acquire health coverage, but said Republicans will be better off fighting for those issues when a vote to increase the federal “debt ceiling” arrives in mid-October.
“It’s better to have that fight on the debt ceiling, but we also have to be realistic,” about what Obama and Democrats will accept, Dent said.
Obama has said he also won’t negotiate over the debt ceiling – arguing that it is a basic responsibility to raise the borrowing limit so the government can pay its bills – but Dent said, “that’s not a tenable position.”
There is widespread belief that a moderate group of lawmakers from both parties could combine in the House to pass a “clean” spending bill with no other policies attached, but House leaders prefer to have a bill that wins a majority of Republican support. That means Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) has worked with a conservative group calling for deeper changes to Obamacare.
After initially calling for a full "defunding" of Obamacare, House Republicans on Saturday approved a bill to keep the government running but only if Democrats agree to delay the health law for a year, repeal a medical device tax that helps fund it and allow employers to opt-out of a requirement that they provide health coverage that includes birth control. Senate Democrats expect this afternoon to reject those policies and send the House a bill that funds the government and does nothing else.
That will leave the House with a crucial decision.
Many Republicans see the spending fight as one of their last chances to stop a law that they argue will hurt the economy and health care. Obamacare’s health care exchanges are set to go live on Tuesday.
Others in the GOP, though, believe the party will be blamed for a shutdown and damaged politically, and that it is unrealistic to expect Obama and Senate Democrats to approve a significant roll-back of the president’s signature domestic achievement.
Democrats have compared Republicans demands to extortion, saying they won’t let the GOP use the threat of a shutdown to extract concessions. They argue that funding the government is a basic obligation, not a lever to demand concessions.