September 26, 2013

Boehner in hot seat as clock ticks toward shutdown

By Michael C. Bender / Bloomberg News

(Continued from page 1)

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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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Brent Bozell, head of ForAmerica, a tea party group specializing in social media, warned that "Republicans who fold will find themselves with primary challengers." The group has claimed responsibility for 50,000 phone calls to the offices of Boehner and other Republicans in support of defunding Obamacare.

"If John Boehner does not hold the line — if he caves — his speakership is over," Bozell said in an interview. "If he champions this, he reasserts his leadership."

When asked for a response, Michael Steel, Boehner spokesman, said, "The House has passed a bill to keep the government open and defund Obamacare."

"The fight, right now, is in the Senate," he said.

Boehner tried to delay the health-care law fight until a debate over the nation's $16.7 trillion debt ceiling, which lawmakers still have a few weeks to decide. While Obama has insisted he won't negotiate over the country's ability to pay its bills, other Democrats, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, have said a deal is probable.

House leaders are trying to return to that game plan.

If the House votes this week on leadership's proposal to suspend the nation's debt cap for one year and, among other things, delay Obamacare for a year, it could ease pressure on the spending showdown.

"Our goal is to avoid a government shutdown," Steel said.

Dan Holler, communications director for Heritage Action for America, a limited-government group pushing to defund the health law, said there "wasn't an appetite among House Republicans" for that approach.

Still, there's support among tea party Republicans to amend the Senate budget plan. One proposal is to eliminate health-care subsidies for U.S. lawmakers and their staff.

The amendment, by Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, would overturn an Obama administration decision in August to maintain employer contributions for Congress, worth about $5,000 for individuals and about $10,000 for families.

"That issue has clearly bubbled to the top," Rep. Steve Southerland of Florida, the 2010 class liaison to House Republican leadership, said in an interview.

Holler suggested Republicans could amend the budget bill to keep some parts of the government running while pushing the fight beyond Monday.

A shutdown would carry political risks for their party, Republican senators including Tennessee's Bob Corker have warned. The party in 2014 will try to maintain their 33-seat majority in the House and win the majority in the Senate for the first time since 2006.

"If the House doesn't get what we send over there until Monday, they're in a pretty tough spot," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said about House Republicans.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has created websites, produced videos and issued eight news releases in nine days trying to score political points off the possibility of a shutdown.

Boehner, 63, was an architect of the Republican agenda that helped his party win a House majority in the 1994 election. Just as in that upheaval, the Republican class of 2010 is mostly composed of members who vowed to uphold their campaign principles, making compromise difficult.

Rep. Tom Graves, a Georgia Republican elected in 2010, said the speaker's willingness to fight over the budget bill was "reminiscent of the young John Boehner."

"I'm happy to stand right beside him when I see that resolve," Graves, 43, said in an interview.

It remains to be seen whether that support for Boehner will last the month.

"It's only as deep as the support is from outside of the Beltway," said Rep. Thomas Massie, a first-term Kentucky Republican. "That's really what got us to this step."

Still, Boehner allowed himself a smile last week, enjoying the applause from fellow Republican lawmakers at a Sept. 20 rally, in a rare moment of unity.

"The American people don't want the government shut down, and they don't want Obamacare," Boehner said.

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