News Column

Boehner: 'This Isn't Some Damn Game'

October 4, 2013

Legal Monitor Worldwide

john boehner
Speaker of the House John Boehner (file photo)

House Republicans on Friday continued to demand changes to President Obama's signature health-care law as a condition for funding government operations, with an Oct. 17 debt-ceiling deadline looming and no end to the federal government shutdown in sight.

Privately, a number of GOP lawmakers are pushing for a shift from what they view as a futile debate on health-care to exploration of a broader deal to reduce the nation's debt. They note that House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he will not permit the country to default for the first time in its history, and say Boehner would need to craft a debt agreement that would draw significant Democratic support in order for it to pass.

"This needs to be a big bipartisan deal," Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a close Boehner ally, said Thursday. "This is much more about the debt ceiling and a larger budget agreement than it is about Obamacare."

But Boehner seemed anything but conciliatory when he and other senior Republican lawmakers appeared before reporters on Friday, angrily denouncing comments from an anonymous White House official who said the Democrats were "winning" in the funding impasse.

"This isn't some damn game," Boehner said loudly, repeating his position that the Democratic-controlled Senate should negotiate changes in the Affordable Care Act as part of passing a funding bill. "All we want is to sit down and have a discussion."

Democratic lawmakers and President Obama, who because of the shutdown has canceled plans to attend two upcoming summits in Asia, insist that they will not discuss the health-care law as part of resolving the budget.

The House will remain in session this weekend, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said lawmakers will vote Saturday on a measure ensuring retroactive pay for all federal employees furloughed as a result of the first federal government shutdown in 17 years.

With hundreds of thousands of federal employees out of work, key programs at a standstill and trash overflowing waste receptacles on the Mall because there are no Park Service workers on duty to remove it, a series of polls showed that Americans are blaming both Democrats and Republicans for the impasse but Republicans are being blamed more.

Surveys by CBS News and Fox News showed 44 and 42 percent of respondents, respectively, saying Republicans in Congress are at fault for the shutdown. Thirty-five percent of those polled by CBS blamed Obama and the Democrats in Congress, compared to 32 percent in the survey by Fox. During the government shutdown 17 years ago, nearly twice as many Americans blamed Republicans than blamed then-President Bill Clinton.

In the GOP-controlled House, meanwhile, the number of Republicans who have said they would join Democrats to support a funding bill that does not impact the health-care law has increased to 20.

Boehner has shown no sign of being willing to bring such a "clean" bill to the House floor, because it is not supported by a majority of the lawmakers from his party. But one lawmaker, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Thursday that Boehner has suggested that he may be willing to risk the fury of conservatives by relying on a majority of Democratic votes and less than a majority of Republicans to pass a debt-ceiling increase. Doing so would recall the vote tallies on the huge political defeats Boehner suffered earlier this year as he agreed to head off year-end tax increases and provide federal relief to victims of Hurricane Sandy.

In the GOP-controlled House, meanwhile, the number of Republicans who have said they would join Democrats to support a funding bill that does not impact the health-care law has increased to 20.

Boehner has shown no sign of being willing to bring such a "clean" bill to the House floor, because it is not supported by a majority of the lawmakers from his party. But one lawmaker, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Thursday that Boehner has suggested that he may be willing to risk the fury of conservatives by relying on a majority of Democratic votes and less than a majority of Republicans to pass a debt-ceiling increase. Doing so would recall the vote tallies on the huge political defeats Boehner suffered earlier this year as he agreed to head off year-end tax increases and provide federal relief to victims of Hurricane Sandy.

A senior aide denied that Boehner has suggested such a strategy. Meanwhile, senior policy aides were at work on last-ditch alternatives that could win the support of a majority of Republicans, such as increasing the $16.7 trillion debt limit for a short period mere days or weeks to force Democrats to the negotiating table.

"Speaker Boehner has always said that the United States will not default on its debt, but if we're going to raise the debt limit, we need to deal with the drivers of our debt and deficits," Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in a written statement.

The shift in strategy among Republicans caused a brief sensation Thursday, as political analysts speculated that Boehner, who has long acknowledged the dangers of a default, may be ready to give up the fight. But Republicans pushed back hard against that idea. Although it may have been a mistake to shut down the government in a fruitless quest to dismantle Obama's health-care law, they said, that does not mean they will roll over on the debt limit without concessions from Democrats.

"I don't think there's energy in the Republican caucus to have any kind of default on the debt limit," said Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.), a member of the House leadership who represents the conservative class of 2010. But "we need a long-term plan to take future debt-ceiling increases off the table."

Increasing the debt limit for "a couple days, a week" would be a "horrible way" to jump-start talks, Lankford said. "We'd rather just get it resolved."

A very short-term increase in the debt limit could wreak havoc on the economy and financial markets by dragging the debate well beyond Oct. 17, when the Treasury will exhaust its borrowing authority and begin relying entirely on incoming revenue to pay the nation's bills.

On Thursday, the Treasury Department released a report on debt-ceiling "brinksmanship" that examined the economic fallout from a similar impasse in 2011, when the nation came within days of defaulting on its obligations.

The report found that consumer confidence plummeted in the months before the 2011 debt-limit deadline. So did the stock market, robbing the nation of $2.4 trillion in household wealth, including $800 billion in retirement assets. Interest rates also spiked, raising borrowing costs for home buyers, businesses and consumers, with the effects lingering long after the crisis was resolved.

"Playing games" with the debt limit by approving a short-term increase "would be a very, very serious mistake," said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.). At a time when global investors are already worried "that America has gone into a psychology where it's prepared not to pay its bills, this would be another self-inflicted wound," he said.

So far, however, Obama and Senate Democrats have refused to negotiate with Republicans, over either the debt limit or a plan to fund the government into fiscal 2014, which began Tuesday. Congress reached an impasse after Republicans insisted that any funding plan include provisions to dismantle the health-care law, which began enrolling consumers Tuesday. Since the shutdown began, many House Republicans have joined a majority of their colleagues in the Senate in publicly condemning that strategy, arguing that Obama is never going to sign a bill that undermines his most important legislative achievement.

On Thursday, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) proposed to fund the government for six months in a bill that does not mention dismantling the health-care law and seeks only to repeal a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices.

But Republican leaders have declined to endorse Dent's bill and have refused Democratic demands to pass a simple funding bill with no other provisions, calling instead for bipartisan negotiations aimed at reopening the government and crafting a deal to raise the debt limit.

"Nobody's doing well under this. We aren't, but neither are they," said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), who has been working with House leaders and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on a negotiating strategy for the debt ceiling. "I think they know that. And they know what's coming."

Frustrated Democrats say they are willing to negotiate and have been trying for months to persuade Republicans to name a conference committee to discuss federal budget issues.

Both sides agree that a potential deal could involve replacing the deep budget cuts known as the sequester with cost-saving adjustments to Social Security and Medicare, such as using a less generous measure of inflation to calculate cost-of-living changes.

Both parties are willing to discuss an overhaul of the tax code, so long as the question of how to raise revenue is left open. Democrats say they would even consider changes to the health-care law, such as a repeal of the 2.3 percent tax on medical devices.

But Democrats noting that they already have agreed to maintain the sequester cuts through mid-November say they will not discuss a broader budget deal until Republicans agree to fund the government.

"We do need to sit down. I'm happy to talk to them," said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.). "But the government has to open up first."

(c) 2013 Legal Monitor Worldwide. All Rights Reserved. Provided by Syndigate.info an Albawaba.com company

Original headline: Boehner still seeking health-care negotiations: 'This isn't some damn game'


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Source: (c) 2013 Legal Monitor Worldwide. All Rights Reserved.


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