September 26, 2013

Boehner in hot seat as clock ticks toward shutdown

By Michael C. Bender / Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON — John Boehner helped start the clock running on a government shutdown. It's up him to stop it.

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Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Republican members of the House of Representatives rally after passing a bill that would prevent a government shutdown while crippling the health care law that was the signature accomplishment of President Barack Obama's first term, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Sept. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)


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The U.S. House speaker's choice — between keeping the government running and continuing to fight the nation's three- year-old health-care law — has implications for the 2014 congressional elections and, potentially, his future.

The Ohio Republican has a tough decision to make. He can keep up the fight against Obamacare when the Senate sends back a spending bill in coming days, making a shutdown more likely. Or, he can fund the government with the help of Democratic votes, and risk alienating a band of Republican newcomers who've already tried once to oust him as speaker.

"This is coming back and John Boehner is going to have to make the decision again," said Peter Wehner, head of former President George W. Bush's Office of Strategic Initiatives. "He's in a situation where he's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't."

Boehner has five days to choose before a shutdown.

The House probably won't get back the Senate bill with health-law defunding stripped out until just days before government spending authority runs out on Monday.

Changing the proposal and sending it back to the Senate increases the chance of shutdown. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said any House amendments at that point would be a "sure-fire way to shut down the government."

The Office of Management and Budget estimated 30 days of shutdowns in 1995 and 1996 cost more than $1.4 billion, or $2.09 billion in today's dollars. Democrat Bill Clinton was re-elected president in 1996 in a landslide after the Republican Congress was blamed for closing the government.

Boehner insists he doesn't want to shut down the government, though his caucus could again try to curb the health-care law with changes to a Senate bill. They're mulling options such as rolling back a tax on medical devices and lifting an exemption that keeps members of Congress out of Obamacare.

The speaker also could determine that move is too risky, right up against a potential shutdown. Then his option would be to call for a vote to clear the spending bill with the help of Democrats, which would keep the government open and could turn some members of his caucus against him.

He's been seeking to persuade House Republicans to put off the fight over the health-care law until a debt-ceiling debate in the next few months. So far, he hasn't succeeded.

Boehner has been pushed into a corner by a vocal minority of House Republicans whose legislative priority is to stop President Barack Obama's health-care law. They've shown no signs of relenting.

"It doesn't make sense if we take this stand and then next week say we really didn't mean it," said Texas Rep. Louis Gohmert, one of 12 Republicans who voted against Boehner's re-election as speaker in January.

Gohmert and his group are backed by the limited-government tea party movement, which is trying to cripple the law. FreedomWorks, an organization tied to the tea party, is targeting college campuses, telling young adults to not sign up for the government-run insurance exchanges scheduled to roll out on Oct. 1.

Americans for Prosperity, a small-government group funded by billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch, is spending almost $1 million on TV ads to do the same.

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