WASHINGTON – More than a third of House Republicans urged their leader Thursday to trigger a government shutdown rather than fund the implementation of the health care overhaul they call “Obamacare.”
A letter from 80 Republicans asked House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, to resist any spending bills that would accommodate the new health care law, which is nearing a critical stage of signing up millions of Americans for coverage.
Because it’s virtually certain that President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate would reject such demands, leaders of both parties say the standoff likely would result in a partial shutdown of the federal government, similar to those that occurred in 1995 and 1996.
The letter is mixed news for Boehner and other GOP leaders who view a government shutdown as politically unwise.
With 80 of the House’s 233 Republicans signing the letter, a solid majority of 153 has refrained from trying to limit Boehner’s options. That presumably would allow the speaker to push a bipartisan bill that funds the health law and is supported by a “majority of the majority” of his fellow Republicans, which Boehner says is essential.
However, he would need more than 60 Democratic votes to pass such a bill. That would give Democrats a major voice in its details.
The 2013 fiscal year ends Sept. 30. New money must be appropriated by then to avoid a shutdown of countless government offices and agencies.
Voters chiefly blamed congressional Republicans for the mid-1990s shutdowns, and the fallout boosted Democratic President Bill Clinton. Ever since, many establishment Republicans have urged the party to avoid using shutdown threats as a bargaining tool.
But a new generation of tea party-backed conservatives rejects the advice. They say “Obamacare” – officially the Affordable Care Act – is so unpopular and unworkable that it justifies extraordinary tactics to block it.
A possible solution to the budget impasse, often used in past years, would involve a “continuing resolution” to keep funding the government at current levels.
Many top Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., say it’s impossible to carve out money for “Obamacare” in any appropriations measure.
The House letter was authored by Rep. Mark R. Meadows, R-N.C. It urges Boehner “to affirmatively defund the implementation and enforcement of Obamacare in any relevant appropriations bill,” including “any continuing appropriations bill.”
At least a dozen Senate Republicans have signed a similar letter.