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GOP to use debt limit to press for Obamacare delay

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WASHINGTON — Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives said on Wednesday they plan to press their demands to delay Obamacare health insurance reforms on a measure to raise the debt limit that could come as early as next week.
GOP planning revised attack on 'Obamacare': Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., speaks to reporters following a Democratic caucus at the Capitol in Washington on Tuesday.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., speaks to reporters following a Democratic caucus at the Capitol in Washington on Tuesday.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the coming debate over raising the $16.7 trillion U.S. borrowing cap would be "no different" than the party's effort in 2011 to link a debt-limit hike to federal spending cuts.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said a debt-limit measure that delays the health care law would be unveiled next week. He said Republicans also will seek to include a "path forward" on tax reform and approval of the Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline project. Republican congressmen also said the leaders plan a vote on Friday that would deny funds to Obamacare reforms as part of a stopgap government funding plan.

GOP aides said the latest strategy was to be presented to rank-and-file Republicans at a closed-door meeting Wednesday. They required anonymity to discuss the strategy because it had not been announced.

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It's a reversal from an earlier strategy, rejected last week by angry conservatives, that would have sent the measure to the Senate as two bills to ensure that the Democratic-controlled chamber would be able to ship the spending measure straight to the White House and more easily avert a government shutdown after the Sept. 30 end of the budget year.

The idea then was to avoid a subsequent vote on a "clean" stopgap spending bill in the House after Senate Democrats voted to strip out the provision. Stopgap funding bills are typically routine, with neither House nor Senate looking to use them to pick a fight.

The flaw in the fallback strategy is that if the Senate were to send the measure back, angry GOP conservatives might be looking for a fight and could withhold their votes, rather than surrender to the Senate and its top Democrat, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

House Republicans are also looking at a vote soon to raise the government's $16.7 trillion borrowing cap on their own terms by pairing it with a roster of conservative priorities, including a renewed assault on the health care law and a mandate to build the Keystone XL pipeline.

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Conservatives want to take a must-pass bill hostage and add the assault on the Affordable Care Act in an attempt to force Obama and congressional Democrats to make concessions. GOP leaders have viewed the effort with skepticism since Democrats would never go along.

The idea of defunding Obama's health care law has been a goal of tea party conservatives such as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and outside groups such as the Heritage Foundation.

Meanwhile, a large group of House conservatives intends to unveil legislation providing an expanded tax break for consumers who purchase their own health coverage and increasing the government funding for high-risk pools, according to lawmakers who said the plan marked the Republicans' first comprehensive alternative to Obama's health care overhaul.

Conservatives are frustrated that Republicans control only one chamber of Congress and have little chance to enact their agenda over the opposition of Obama and Senate Democrats.

On the record, GOP aides said no final decision has been made — "or will be made, until House Republican members meet and talk tomorrow," Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner said Tuesday.

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A shutdown impasse would leave the government without funding authority to pay its workers, including the military, or enter into new contracts until a bill is passed. But essential programs such as the military, air traffic control, food inspection, disaster relief and firefighting would continue to function, since they're related to protecting life and property. So-called mandatory programs such as Social Security and Medicare, which are funded as if on autopilot, would also continue.

National parks would mostly close, most passport applications could not be processed and the space program would largely be put on hold, among other results.

A top House Democrat, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, said Tuesday he would not support the stopgap funding bill under any circumstance since it would fund programs at an annualized funding rate of $986 billion, a level consistent with automatic, across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration that Democrats are trying to reverse.

But if the Democratic Senate goes along with that funding level, as insiders have signaled, and if Obama endorses the straightforward funding measure, House Democrats likely could be counted upon to provide the votes. The question is whether GOP leaders would want to pass the measure with help from Democrats, which Boehner did on several occasions earlier this year to the consternation of conservatives.

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said Tuesday that the GOP move was a nonstarter.

"The president's been clear. I've been clear. Efforts to either defund or delay the Affordable Care Act are unacceptable," Lew told the Economic Club of Washington. "That is not a path towards something that can ultimately be signed into law."

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