House Republican leaders proposed a new plan to the GOP rank-and-file Saturday afternoon: Make a new gesture of defiance toward President Obama's health-care law, even if it increases the chances of a government shutdown Monday night.
Their plan calls for amendments to a bill designed to keep the government open for a few more weeks. The changes would include a one-year delay in the health-care law, which is set to take effect next month. The GOP plan would also repeal, permanently, a medical-device tax included in the law.
The advantage of that plan — for Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH) and his team — is political. After being criticized by GOP hard-liners for not doing enough to undermine the health-care law, Boehner has taken a far more aggressive position. Instead of seeking to take away some of the money to implement Obamacare, their new plan would push back the whole thing.
The disadvantage is more practical: This plan is far more likely to result in a government shutdown. It may pass the House — and it may even pass Saturday. But it is not likely to pass the Democratic-held Senate or be signed by Obama. If nobody backs down, that would mean no funding bill passed before the deadline to avert a shutdown: Monday night.
Republicans seemed to recognize that risk Saturday. Their new proposal also includes a measure that would continue to pay U.S. military forces, eliminating one of the most politically sensitive impacts if a shutdown comes.
"The American people don't want a government shut down, and they don't want Obamacare," Boehner and his lieutenants said in a statement, after Republicans met in the basement of the Capitol. "We will do our job and send this bill over, and then it's up to the Senate to pass it and stop a government shutdown."
If the bill passes the House, it would be a serious risk for Boehner, a beleagured speaker who has often seen risks turn out badly in the past. Even before Saturday's meeting began, it was clear that senior Republicans understood these possible consequences. Some rank-and-file Republicans said they now see no way out of the shutdown.
Rep. Thomas J. Rooney (R-FL) said a shutdown was now "likely." "What's going on that would make you think otherwise? Maybe I'll hear something in there that will change that," he said before going into the GOP meeting. "I doubt it."
Before the meeting of the entire House Republican Conference, Boehner gathered his leadership team in his second-floor Capitol office to go over the GOP's final options. Aides said the Republicans were still considering all their alternatives and were searching for maneuvers that would allow them to walk an incredibly fine line — appeasing a bloc of 30 or more far-right conservatives who are demanding an aggressive posture against Obamacare and also finding something that could be acceptable to Senate Democrats.
At this stage, Boehner and his top lieutenants, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), are refusing to entertain the prospect of seeking out Democratic votes to keep the government open, according to advisers who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door talks.
The rare Saturday session followed the Senate's passage Friday of a stopgap government funding bill and promptly departed, leaving all of the pressure to find a solution on House Republican leaders.
On Saturday, as this drama played out on Capitol Hill, Obama played golf at Fort Belvoir in Virginia.
The day before, Obama had sternly lecturing GOP leaders that the easiest path forward would be to approve the Senate's bill, which includes money for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the president's prized legislation achievement, which he signed into law in 2010.