Even before Friday's House vote, lawmakers were looking a couple of moves ahead on the congressional chessboard to a scenario in which the Democratic Senate would remove the "defund Obamacare" provision and kick the funding measure back to the House for a showdown next weekend.
GOP leaders haven't said what they'll do then, but with the deadline looming at midnight on Monday, Sept. 30, a further volley of legislative ping pong that prolongs the impasse could spark the first shutdown since the 1995-96 battle that helped resurrect President Bill Clinton's popularity.
"We will not accept just a clean CR at this point. There will be a fight," said Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., using shorthand for the stopgap spending bill, which is officially called a continuing resolution.
An earlier plan by Boehner and other GOP leaders was designed to send a straightforward bill to keep the government running through Dec. 15, but ran into too much opposition from tea party members who demanded a showdown over the Affordable Care Act, the official name of what Republicans have branded Obamacare.
Boehner has sought to reassure the public and financial markets that Republicans have no interest in either a partial government shutdown when the budget year ends or a first-ever default on a broader set of U.S. obligations when the government runs out of borrowing ability by mid- to late October.
"Let me be very clear," Boehner said Thursday. "Republicans have no interest in defaulting on our debt — none."
GOP leaders want to skirt the shutdown confrontation and seek concessions when addressing the need to raise the debt ceiling next month, but Obama says he won't be forced into making concessions as he did in the 2011 debt crisis, when he accepted $2.1 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years.
Republicans held a meeting Friday morning with the rank and file to discuss the debt limit measure. Lawmakers said the GOP's debt limit plan could permit new borrowing for a year, paired with a mandate to permit construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a framework to reform the loophole-cluttered U.S. tax code, limits on medical malpractice lawsuits and higher Medicare premiums for higher-income beneficiaries. Even with the grab bag of GOP chestnuts, some ardent conservatives are likely to balk at voting for any debt limit measure.
At the very least, Republicans want to cause political pain for vulnerable Senate Democrats. At their rally Friday, Republicans cheered as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., cited four Senate Democrats who face re-election next year in GOP-leaning and said he wanted to know where each stands on Obama's health care law.
The four were Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.
In interviews Thursday, Pryor and Begich indicated that they did not support the effort to defund the health care law.
"We voted on Obamacare," Pryor said. "It's the law of the land; it's been to the Supreme Court. It's not perfect, but let's work to make it better, don't repeal it."
Associated Press Writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.
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