Yesterday, Representative Tom Graves of Georgia formally introduced an alternative plan to fund the government that would delay Obamacare by one year. Graves spoke with me from rural Gordon County, Ga., where he had pulled over his truck to the side of the road at a spot that had cell service.
Graves is optimistic that House Republicans are beginning to coalesce around his plan. “What I sense is that we are unifying as a conference. What’s been exciting about this process is that members are engaged like maybe I’ve never seen before,” he says.
The bill carries the support of 42 co-sponsors, a relatively broad group given the context of its introduction, which can be considered something of a repudiation of a plan introduced by Majority Leader Eric Cantor earlier in the week that would force the Senate to vote on Obamacare.
Still, Graves says leadership isn’t hostile to his alternative. “They’re well aware of this and they see the broad support for it as well. I think they see it as a viable option. They have not indicated any objection,” he says.
Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, a former chairman of the Republican Study Committee, has led the charge with Graves this week against the Cantor plan, which was unveiled to rank-and-file members Tuesday morning but is now in serious peril and may never see the House floor.
Both men described a flurry of meetings among conservatives and with leadership offices that led to a gradual understanding that the Cantor plan was unlikely to pass muster with the GOP conference.
Jordan went into more detail about the messaging approach that they believe will carry the day if leadership embraces the plan. “Let’s fund the government. But let’s delay a bill,” the word Jordan repeatedly uses to refer to the law, “that everybody – everybody – knows is just not ready,” he says.
“If the president wants to force on America a bill that everyone in the country knows is not ready and should be delayed, if he wants to force that, that’s something he has to deal with. To me, that’s the central question. Really, Mr. President? A bill that the head of the Teamsters says is going to hurt working Americans? A bill that Howard Dean says is going to lead to rationing care? A bill that your hometown newspaper said should be delayed? You’re going to say that, ‘Oh, nothing can stand in the way. We’re going to force it on the American people’?” Jordan adds.
For the Ohio Republican, it’s less important which vehicle — the continuing resolution (CR) or the upcoming debt ceiling — is used for the fight, and more important that Republicans unify around a call to delay Obamacare as soon as possible.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen. The best vehicle is the one that’s in front of us right now, but I also think potentially, the debt ceiling could be as well. The key is, let’s make the argument. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Two weeks of having this debate, we could be in a different position,” he says.
In talks with a good number of Republicans under the Capitol dome over the past several days, I’ve heard lawmakers increasingly provide an assessment that the Cantor plan is likely to be changed. But leadership aides say they are still on track to pass it as soon as next week, and note that a significant majority of the conference has expressed a willingness to vote for it.
Whatever plan wins the day, they say, it’s key that it secure government funding with a single vote, rather than a “ping pong” back and forth between the two chambers. The reason? They fear that a back-and-forth with Harry Reid would open the sequester spending cuts to debate. They’d rather have those enacted into law when the debt-ceiling fight becomes ripe several weeks from now.
But at this moment, the momentum seems to be with Graves and the push to use the CR for a fight to delay the health-care law.