WASHINGTON – An attempt by House Republicans to put forward a new budget proposal was crumbling as soon as it emerged Tuesday, panned by party conservatives and attacked by the White House and congressional Democrats.
House Speaker John A. Boehner outlined the offer as a last-ditch effort to resist having to stomach the bipartisan compromise emerging from the Senate. But it was unclear if Boehner had support for passage or if a House vote would be held later Tuesday.
“We are talking with our members on both sides of the aisle to try to find a way to move forward today,” said Boehner after the morning House GOP meeting, flanked by his leadership team.
The reaction from Democrats was swift and unified.
The White House quickly criticized the offer as “a partisan attempt to appease a small group of tea party Republicans who forced the government shutdown in the first place.”
“The president has said repeatedly that members of Congress don’t get to demand ransom for fulfilling their basic responsibilities to pass a budget and pay the nation’s bills,” said spokeswoman Amy Brundage.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he was “blindsided” by the House Republicans’ “extreme” offer, coming as he and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) were narrowing on their compromise proposal. A planned Senate GOP meeting was hastily postponed.
“Extremist Republicans in the House of Representatives are attempting to torpedo the Senate’s bipartisan progress with a bill that can’t pass the Senate – can’t pass the Senate – and won’t pass the Senate,” Reid said.
But Boehner got an unexpected boost from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). The harsh and vocal critic of the tea party wing’s budget strategy condemned the Democrats’ refusal to entertain the House proposal – a sign the Senate’s bipartisan plan may be running into head winds from that chamber’s conservatives.
“It’s piling on – and it’s not right,” said McCain, urging Senate leaders to negotiate with Boehner. “I don’t understand that visceral reaction.”
Democratic leaders from the House were summoned to the White House for an afternoon meeting with President Obama, but it was clear that Boehner was unlikely to pick up support from that side of the aisle to help offset defections of his own.
"I saw a speaker who doesn’t have the votes,” said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco).
House Republicans wanted to get ahead of a quickly developing bipartisan proposal in the Senate by suggesting they could move their own measure Tuesday to end the standoff over the federal budget.
But Boehner’s hard-right flank did not embrace the latest proposal and may ultimately see it as insufficient, leaving the speaker once again facing difficulty in passing anything. His leadership team met later Tuesday.
"The leadership wants to bring something to the floor to show the American people that actually it is the Senate that is dragging its feet and is going to miss the president's imposed deadline and hopefully Congress can take action before that," Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) said after the GOP meeting.
The House plan would include stronger measures targeting President Obama's healthcare law, but still represents a major scaling back of GOP demands and may draw opposition from the most conservative Republicans in the chamber.
As Boehner outlined the plan, it would accept key parameters of the emerging Senate deal – reopening the federal government by extending current spending levels through Jan. 15, and raising the nation's debt limit through Feb. 7.
But the House plan would add changes to the Affordable Care Act. Rather than delay a new tax opposed by labor unions, as the Senate plan would do, the House would instead postpone for two years a tax on medical devices that the law imposes on manufacturers.
Like the Senate plan, the House would add an income verification requirement for customers who buy insurance through the new online marketplaces set up by the health law.
It would also seek to end the government's payment of its traditional employer's share of health-insurance premiums for members of Congress and administration officials, who are now required to purchase medical insurance through the online marketplaces. Democrats have previously rejected that idea, which is popular among Republican activists but unpopular with many lawmakers.
The House plan also would end the Treasury Department's ability to use so-called "extraordinary measures" to continue financing government debt after the debt limit has been breached.
The House changes are far short of what the party sought at the start of the budget battle – an end to Obamacare – and it is unclear yet whether the scaled-back plan would garner the support of the powerful House conservative bloc.
"There will be some in the conference who don't think this House proposal goes far enough," said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), a leading House moderate. "There are no winners in this process, only losers. The only question is ... who is losing more?"
But House Republicans who have witnessed the party’s repeated hard-right inspired showdowns with the Senate were more resigned, realizing that the new proposal may not have support to pass, leaving Boehner with few options but to accept the Senate proposal or risk a debt default by Thursday.
“If our party can’t pass this, then there’s no doubt we’re going to end up with what the Senate sends us,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) “Look, if my colleagues can’t muster together, and sometimes accept good because they’re waiting for perfect, then that’s on them.”
Boehner reiterated that he did not want to see the country default on its obligations.
“I have made clear for months and months that the idea of default is wrong, and we shouldn't get anywhere close to it,” he said.
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