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GOP starts spending showdown with bid to undo Obamacare

House Republicans will move forward with legislation to defund “Obamacare” and avert a government shutdown at the end of the month as part of their opening gambit in this autumn’s fiscal battles on Capitol Hill.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the GOP would take one more in a series of votes to do away with President Barack Obama’s health care reform law, an effort destined to die in the Democratic Senate. The vote is intended to appease conservatives who had vowed to force a government shutdown unless Obamacare was defunded; once the Senate dispels the legislation, negotiations to fund the government past Sept. 30 can begin in earnest.

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“We're going to continue to do everything we can to repeal the president's failed healthcare law,” Boehner told reporters on Capitol Hill. He said the House will pass a continuing resolution “that locks the sequester savings in and defunds Obamacare.”

The vote will be just the first in a series of maneuvers between House Republicans, Senate Democrats and Obama to both fund the government past the end of September, when it runs out of money, and later, approve new borrowing by the government to service its existing debts.

In remarks a short time later before the Business Roundtable (traditionally a Republican-friendly group), Obama called the GOP strategy on health care the “primary roadblock to resolving the budget.” He said that while he would be willing to work with Republicans over budgetary issues, he would not negotiate over the looming debt ceiling vote as a matter of principle.

“You have never seen in the history of the United States the debt ceiling or the threat of not raising the debt ceiling being used to extort a president or a governing party,” Obama told the group of business leaders. He said such a precedent would “fundamentally change how American government functions.”

That sets up another potentially significant battle with Republicans. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said Wednesday that Republicans would ask for a delay of Obamacare – a more modest request, but still an unlikely prospect – among other items in exchange for raising the debt limit.

“In the coming week we will unveil a plan to extend our nation’s ability to borrow, while delaying Obamacare and protecting working, middle-class families from its horrific effects,” Cantor said. “Those discussions will also focus on a path forward on tax reform and the Keystone pipeline.”

The Republican strategy comes after Boehner and his leadership team realized they lacked the votes even to proceed on a measure extending government spending to mid-December. Conservatives balked at the plan – which would have called for defunding Obamacare, but allowed the Senate to easily dispense with that measure through procedural means.

“We listened to our colleagues over the past week. We have a plan they're happy with; we're going forward,” Boehner said Wednesday of his most recent proposal.

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The jostling between the Republican leadership and its conservative flank are emblematic of the intraparty fighting that has vexed Boehner and his leadership team for much of the past three years. On a variety of previous fights over government spending and the debt ceiling since 2010, Boehner has had to hold a variety of show-votes to mollify his unruly caucus before moving toward any final agreement – usually a short-term, patchwork solution passed in part with the support of House Democrats.

And though Democrats are sure to frame Boehner’s move as a bid by Republicans to force a government shutdown, Boehner said that notion – which is widely regarded as politically perilous for the GOP – was the furthest from his mind.

“There should be no conversation about shutting the government down,” he said. “That's not the goal here.”

But the debt ceiling may end up being the larger inflection point, especially as Obama staked out a hard-lined position against negotiating over that vote.