With four days to go until Congress bumps its head on the debt ceiling, House Republicans have largely bowed out of negotiations.
But though they’ve taken a back seat to their Senate counterparts, members of the conservative wing and some rank-and-file House Republicans have made perfectly clear their intention to be backseat drivers.
During a Saturday morning meeting in the Capitol basement, House Speaker John Boehner briefed his colleagues on the status of negotiations between President Obama and the House GOP, which at that point had broken down. The House had offered to extend the debt ceiling for six weeks in exchange for an agreement to continue talks on government spending, but the White House rejected that proposal because it included no terms on reopening the government.
Any deal to avert an approaching default now fell to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has repeatedly labeled the president’s signature health care law off-limits.
Rather than agreeing to stand down, however, Rep. Paul Ryan reportedly riled up members of the Tea Party faction to stand resolute in their goal of dismantling Obamacare.
Sources told the Washington Post that the former vice presidential candidate instructed House lawmakers to reject any deal on the debt limit or budget that delayed the next showdown until next year. Ryan argued that his conference could use those deadlines as “leverage” for delaying Obamacare’s individual mandate, and adding a “conscience clause,” allowing employers and insurers to deny birth control coverage if they objected on moral or religious grounds.
Ryan’s extreme position was somewhat surprising, considering he’d just presented a more reasoned approach in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that made no mention of Obamacare, the attempted derailment of which triggered the shutdown and brought the government to the brink of default.
His remarks signaled that any deal struck in the Senate had little chance of flying in the House, where many in the majority have derided President Obama’s standards and scoffed at the direction negotiations seem to be heading.
“I’m disappointed that the president has rejected the offer that we put on the table,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said. “I know that he’s trying to see which Republican senator he can pick off in the Senate. I hope that the Senate Republicans stand strong so we can speak with one voice.”
Following Obama’s rejection of the House’s short-term extension offer, Senate lawmakers then picked up the baton. But Democrats swiftly dismissed another pitch from the GOP, this one from Sen. Susan Collins that would have increased the debt limit until January 2014 in exchange for funding the government at sequester levels until the spring.
Republicans in the House were already dismayed by the Collins proposal. (Appropriations Chair Hal Rogers called it the “Obama-Collins bill,” while House Financial Services Chair Jeb Hensarling described himself as “charitably not thrilled” by it.) But the Democrats’ repudiation yielded even more aggravation.
“[President Obama] wouldn’t even come to the table to negotiate, and now that he’s coming to the table, he rejected two offers,” said Rep. Raul Labrador Sunday on ABC’s This Week. “I thought the House offer was a pretty reasonable one, and I’m surprised that he also rejected the Senate offer.”
Senate lawmakers are back in session Sunday, with many keenly aware that any compromise they strike has to be palatable to their colleagues in the House.
“After all this mess is over, do we really want to compromise John Boehner as leader of the House? I don’t think so,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham on ABC’s This Week Sunday. “I’m not going to vote for any plan that I don’t think can get a majority of Republicans in the House.”
Graham endorsed a plan currently being crafted by Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, to increase the government’s $16.7 trillion debt limit, while offsetting the political cost with changes to Medicare and cuts to domestic spending and defense programs.
Speaking in a video message for the Value Voters summit, Ryan expressed his commitment to a budget agreement that comes with a hefty amount of conservative carrots. “We needs to completely rethink government’s role in helping the most vulnerable,” he said. “That means we can never give up on repealing and replacing Obamacare.”