Obama: GOP threat to shut down government 'not an economic plan'

President Barack Obama said Friday that Republican threats to shut down the government over his health care law don’t amount to an economic plan.

On the second day of his education-focused bus tour of New York and Pennsylvania, the president castigated conservatives who have vowed to shut down the government when its funds run out on Sept. 30 unless “Obamacare” is defunded.

“Most recently, there's been threats that we shut down the government unless we agree to roll back the health care reform that's about to provide millions of Americans with health care coverage for the first time,” the president said Friday at a town hall with students and faculty at the State University of New York at Binghamton.

“And that's not an economic plan,” Obama added. “That's not going to grow the economy or strengthen the middle class or provide ladders of opportunity into the middle class. What we need to do is focus on the pocketbook, bread-and-butter issues that affect all of you.”

His admonishment of congressional Republicans came as the threat of an eventual shutdown appeared to wane slightly after House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told fellow Republicans that he would pursue a short-term measure to extend federal spending for a while past its Sept. 30 expiration when Congress returns to Washington next month.

But while Boehner said GOP lawmakers would push for the short-term extension of spending (known as a “continuing resolution”), he had not definitively ruled out linking it to a measures seeking to strip Obamacare of funding. Though the length of the extension hasn’t been determined, a Republican aide suggested it’s likely to last longer than just a few weeks.

Boehner had previously suggested that he was leaning toward a pursuing a continuing resolution before Congress left Washington for its annual summer recess.

The announcement could make for a political relief valve, as Obama embarks on another public tour seeking to set the terms of this fall’s battle over government spending. The president took aim at the group of conservatives who have similarly used the August recess to pressure House and Senate Republican leaders on the defund strategy. 

This trip, which focused on the issue of education, joined with Obama’s preceding speeches this summer about the economy to lay the administration’s groundwork for the autumn fiscal fights.

“When we get back to Washington -- when Congress gets back to Washington -- this is going to be a major debate. It's the same debate we've been having for the last two years. The real difference is now, deficits are already coming down,” Obama said, referring to figures showing that the size of the deficit has shrunk (in part due to automatic spending cuts enacted earlier this year).

But conservative activists have only redoubled their effort to scorch top Republicans who are loath to use the need to keep the government running and, eventually, raise the nation’s debt ceiling as a point of leverage over Obamacare. 

Speaking of the prospects of avoiding a shutdown, the president said Friday that Republicans privately confide that they are also leery of such a development. 

“And I've made this argument to my Republican friends privately, and, by the way, sometimes they say to me privately, ‘I agree with you, but I'm worried about a primary from, you know, somebody in the Tea Party back in my district,’ or, ‘I'm worried about what Rush Limbaugh is going to say about me on the radio. And so you got to understand, I'm -- it's really difficult,’” he said on CNN.

But unless conservative factions in the House and Senate are able to get the best of their leaders – 80 House Republicans urged Boehner to pursue the Obamacare strategy, POLITICO reported Friday, but not in the harshest terms – the threat of a shutdown or other political crisis appears to have diminished, slightly.

One key Republican congresswoman with ties to the House GOP leadership accused a conservative group pressuring lawmakers to link defunding Obamacare to sustaining government spending and averting a shutdown next month of mounting "a political game and distraction."

“Should we repeal, replace, defund, dismantle, and do everything we possibly can to stop Obamacare? Of course! But the Continuing Resolution is not the way to do it,” Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., wrote on her campaign website

A nurse whose election to Congress was based heavily on the issue of Obamacare, Ellmers lashed out at the group Heritage Action, which has spearheaded the push to link the continuing resolution to defunding Obamacare. Former Sen. Jim DeMint, the president of the Heritage Foundation, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz have embarked upon a bus tour this month to rally conservatives behind the proposal. 

“We may not agree about the best strategies for dismantling Obamacare, but we can all agree that it must be done,” Ellmers wrote.

“I hope we can stop the political games and distractions and start working together to fully repeal and replace Obamacare so that we can get America back on track to a healthy and thriving economy.”

Similarly last week, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich scolded fellow Republicans for not having an alternative health care reform proposal ready to pair with their vow to repeal Obamacare. Gingrich said Republicans “will have zero answer” for constituents who ask what their alternative would be.