House GOP debt effort puts Senate talks on hold

3:25 PM, Oct 15, 2013   |    comments
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, speaks with reporters after a Republican strategy session at the Capitol on Tuesday. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, AP)
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WASHINGTON (USA Today) - House Republicans are working to pass their own plan to reopen government and avert an impending Thursday default deadline instead of waiting for Senate leaders who were nearing agreement on a competing budget offer. The House effort appeared to put the brakes on the Senate talks.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, struck a cautious tone about how the House would proceed after a nearly two-hour meeting with GOP lawmakers. "There are a lot of opinions about what direction to go. There have been no decisions about what exactly we will do," he said.

"We are very cognizant of the calendar," said House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. "We want to find a solution that gets us moving forward and America back working again."

House Republicans are dissatisfied with the contours of the Senate plan because they say it does not go far enough to rein in President Obama's health care law. The government shutdown, in its 15th day, began when House Republicans refused to advance a stopgap funding bill unless it included provisions to delay or defund the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

The Senate proposal that was under consideration would fund government through Jan. 15, suspend the debt ceiling until Feb. 7 and create the framework for formal budget negotiations to conclude by Dec. 15 with long-term recommendations for funding levels and deficit reduction. The plan does not include any significant changes to the Obama health care law.

House GOP aides, not authorized to speak about the new House plan until it is released publicly, said the House alternative would have the same spending and debt ceiling extensions as the Senate plan. However, it reportedly includes a two-year delay of a 2.3% medical device tax and eliminates a federal subsidy for members of Congress, the president, vice president and Cabinet officials to buy health insurance under the new system.

House Democrats immediately opposed the plan. "GOP's latest plan is designed to torpedo the bipartisan (Senate) solution," tweeted Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the top Democrat on the Budget Committee. "Plan is not only reckless, it's tantamount to default."

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., informed Democrats that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has taken a step back from active talks to give Boehner space to negotiate.

Coons said senators were stunned by the development because leaders had given the impression that a bipartisan Senate deal was at hand.

"We are out of time," Coons said.

Neither Reid nor McConnell held their traditional news conference after the weekly party lunches Tuesday.

Both leaders had said Monday they felt a deal was very close, but Reid said Tuesday he felt "blindsided" by the House's new effort, which he called a "blatant attack on bipartisanship" and made clear stands no chance of Senate passage.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Tuesday afternoon, "Apparently it's all fallen apart."

She said Democrats were "stunned by the reaction in the House," and "at this point, there's nothing that's real. Apparently there is no agreement."

The White House also criticized the House plan. "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," White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage said. "Unfortunately, the latest proposal from House Republicans does just that in a partisan attempt to appease a small group of Tea Party Republicans who forced the government shutdown in the first place."

Obama was scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon with House Democratic leaders.

The House GOP aides said the House plan would remove the Treasury secretary's ability to use "extraordinary measures" to extend the debt ceiling deadline, restricting the executive branch's flexibility to shift money around to pay bills.

"We think that's a good thing, because that puts Congress back in charge on the debt and on spending," said Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La. "We don't want to give Treasury any wiggle room."

Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., said he remained skeptical that the deadline to extend the debt limit is Thursday. "I don't know what deadline is Thursday," he said, saying the date was "artificially created by the administration."

He said, "This didn't come down on tablets. It's not statute. It's not legislation."

Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., a centrist who has been vocal about the need to reopen government, said he would support the House plan. "It moves the ball forward," he said.

"As long as it's taken care of by Thursday," said Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., another moderate. "That's all that matters."

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