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.
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