Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Politics & Government

House GOP Leaders Now Say Defund Obamacare Or Face Shut Down


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. We have said this before and in the next week and a half you're likely to hear it repeated. If Congress does not act, the government will shut down on October 1st. Today, House Speaker John Boehner unveiled a new strategy designed more to appease the hardliners in his own conference than to avoid a shutdown.

On Friday, he says, the House will take up a stopgap spending measure that funds the government through mid-December and also defunds the Affordable Care Act. NPR congressional correspondent Tamara Keith joins us now from Capitol Hill. And Tamara, wasn't the House supposed to vote on a similar measure just last week?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: They were supposed to and it blew up. Last week's bill would have - they had a show vote on Obamacare, but it wouldn't have had any chance of actually defunding the law and conservatives and Tea Party members balked and set off what some have described as a civil war within the House GOP. So Speaker Boehner is back now with this new stopgap spending bill that defunds Obamacare.

It isn't what he wanted, but at a press conference today, he said this was the best way to unite Republicans.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: We listened to our colleagues over the course of the last week. We have a plan that they're happy with. We're going forward.

SIEGEL: Well, are his colleagues actually happy with this plan?

KEITH: They are. I spoke with a number of Tea Party members leaving this closed-door meeting where he rolled out the plan and they say they're thrilled with the strategy, that this is the most unified they've seen the conference on this topic in a long time. And that they believe, at least some of them, that the president really could accept the idea of defunding the health care law, which, spoiler alert, the White House isn't going for that.

SIEGEL: And the Democratic-controlled Senate, how would they react to a bill that defunds the president's signature achievement from the last term?

KEITH: Oh, they're already saying it's a non-starter. Here's Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on the Senate floor responding to the House plan.

SENATOR HARRY REID: We know it's going to be something really strange and weird because the Speaker has to do everything that he can to try to mold a piece of legislation that'll meet the needs of the Tea Party, the anarchists.

KEITH: And what the Speaker said behind closed doors is that he's doing this to get to 218 votes, to get enough votes to pass something. You know, over on the Senate side, there are at least a few Republicans who are going to try to keep that defunding in there, but the most likely outcome is that the Senate will take up the House bill, restore the Obamacare funding and send it back to the House.

SIEGEL: What would happen then? What would the House do with a spending bill that does not defund Obamacare?

KEITH: Oh, that's the big question. John Boehner wouldn't say what he'd do. Some Republicans I spoke to said they thought this was a red line, that he would hold firm and the conference would hold firm. Others said they weren't so sure and maybe this was just a, you know, an opening volley. Reporters asked Jim Jordan about this, about the next few steps.

He's an Ohio Republican and one of the leaders of the Tea Party caucus on the House side.

REPRESENTATIVE JIM JORDAN: Look, even the best coaches in the NFL only script out the first two series of plays. They don't script the whole game. We got to play the game. We got to see how it shakes out.

KEITH: And to continue that analogy, sort of the second half of this game would be the debt ceiling. That's the next big fight that's coming sometime around October/November. If Congress doesn't raise the debt limit, then the government could begin defaulting on the nation's obligations. One idea is that the Obamacare fight would then move to the debt ceiling along with a grab bag of other things that House Republicans have been asking for.

SIEGEL: You mean, defund Obamacare or risk default would be the challenge at that point.

KEITH: Yes, defund Obamacare or risk default, kind of like defund Obamacare or shut down the government. It's just the sequel.

SIEGEL: That's NPR congressional correspondent Tamara Keith. Thank you, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.