WASHINGTON - GOP leaders eager to avoid blame for a possible government shutdown next month appear confounded by conservatives' passion for using fast-approaching deadlines to derail the implementation of President Barack Obama's health care law.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, conceded Thursday his plan was all but dead for quickly passing a temporary spending bill that also defunds Obamacare, make the Senate vote on each idea separately and then send only the portion for keeping the government open to the White House for the president's signature.
Meanwhile, new freelance effort by rank-and-file Republicans to condition keeping the government open or preventing a debt ceiling default on delaying Obamacare for a year hit a brick wall of opposition from Democrats vowing to never let the health care law be delayed or unraveled.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, center, walks to a news conference on Hill Capitol in Washington, Thursday, after meeting with congressional leaders of both parties to discuss the budget. Boehner said he will insist on curbing spending in the fight over the debt limit.
Nonetheless, some Republicans floated the idea of postponing all of the unimplemented portions of the new law for a year - including a requirement that virtually everyone buys health insurance and with new tax subsidies to help many people pay for it - in exchange for raising the government's borrowing cap and easing tens of billions of dollars in broad, automatic spending cuts.
"Let's give them something and then we get something in exchange," Rep. John Fleming, R-La., said. "We give the administration the debt ceiling increase they want. We give them maybe some sequestration dollars that they would like to have. And in exchange we delay Obamacare, which I think the president should want. ... He's already delayed big chunks of it. It's not ready for implementation."
The administration has delayed a provision of the health care law requiring larger employers to provide health insurance to their workers. State exchanges through which people can purchase health insurance are set to begin operation Oct. 1.
Washington faces two key deadlines in coming weeks. The first is Oct. 1, when a stopgap spending measure will be needed to fund federal agency operations such as employee salaries, equipment and other costs. Without new spending authority, non-essential government operations would shut down for the first time since 1996. Even if the government shuts down, however, Social Security, Medicare and other so-called mandatory programs would continue to operate on autopilot.
The other, far more important must-pass measure looms later in October and would increase the government's borrowing limit so it can pay all of its bills, including Social Security benefits, interest payments on government debt, and payments to local governments and government contractors. Defaulting of those obligations would have far greater consequences for both the economy and the political fortunes of the politicians that bear the blame from voters.
The White House vowed again Thursday that it will do everything in its power to protect and defend Obama's health care law, his most significant accomplishment in office.
"We will not accept anything that delays or defunds Obamacare," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.