President Barack Obama appealed to more moderate Republicans on Monday, pleading with them to break with the party’s conservative flank and help avoid a government shutdown at the end of this month.
With two weeks to go until the government runs out of funding for many of its day-to-day operations, the president turned up the pressure on Republicans in Congress to produce legislation he could sign to avoid a partial shutdown. In doing so, Obama sought to take advantage of internal Republican divisions who have threatened to force a shutdown unless the president’s signature health care reform law is repealed, or at least delayed.
“I cannot remember a time when one faction of one party promises economic chaos when it doesn’t get everything it wants,” Obama said at an event meant to mark the five-year anniversary of the onset of the financial crisis in late 2008. (Obama’s remarks about pending fiscal battles also took a back seat to his comments about a shooting at Washington’s Navy Yard on Monday.)
“It was an issue in last year's election, and the candidate who called for repeal lost,” the president said of GOP opposition to his health care law, referencing his tussles in 2012 with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
But the president’s remarks on Monday are mindful of the fact that Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, are at a loss for how to proceed with legislation addressing government operations. The federal government runs out of funding at the end of Sept. 30, and non-essential operations would cease until spending can be restored.
A group of hard-lined conservatives have argued for a strategy in which no Republican should vote to extend government spending unless funding for the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, is withdrawn. But Democrats have rejected the proposal out-of-hand, and the president is sure to refuse legislation that would gut his most significant domestic achievement as president.
Republican leaders are mindful of this political calculus, but are forced to balance legislative strategy against the ideological demands of conservatives who wish to force a renewed fight over Obamacare. (Some of these lawmakers also fear primary challenges in 2014 if they refuse to go along with the defund Obamacare strategy.)
Because of those pressures, Republican leaders pulled legislation to extend government spending through mid-December after conservatives balked and Democrats were unwilling to offer up their votes as help.
“There are a million options being discussed by a lot of people. When we have something to discuss, I'll let you know,” a somewhat exasperated House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters late last week.
In the short-term, Obama issued an appeal to Republicans who have sided against the defund Obamacare strategy; many of these GOP lawmakers have vocally criticized the strategy favored by conservatives as politically destructive.
“Are some of these folks beholden to one extreme wing of their party that they're willing to tank the entire economy just because they can't get their way on this issue?” Obama asked. “It's time for those Republicans to step up, and they've got to decide what they want to prioritize.”