- - Friday, September 13, 2013

The Republican National Committee has set up a website counting down the minutes remaining before the “Obamacare train wreck” arrives. In less than three weeks, the insurance exchanges open, and House Speaker John A. Boehner wavers over whether he ought to prevent it from happening.

Only one must-pass legislative vehicle offers the leverage needed to derail the president’s health care takeover before the deadline. Federal agencies run out of spending authority on Sept. 30, and under the Constitution, it falls to the House to come up with the first draft of the next year’s spending plan. Because the Democrat-controlled Senate won’t work within the normal appropriations process, Congress will resort to adopting another 16-page continuing resolution, this time allowing President Obama to spend $986 billion through Dec. 15.

The resolution will keep the government open at existing spending levels, preserving the status quo. Mr. Boehner’s only play is to remove funding for Obamacare from the bill and give Mr. Obama the choice of a veto that shuts down non-essential government services. One of the disturbing rumors circulating on Capitol Hill is that House leaders won’t consider having a showdown with the White House. Instead, they’re willing to rig the vote to preserve Obamacare without, to the untrained eye, appearing to do so.

It works as follows: The House would vote to fund the government in one bill and to defund (or delay) Obamacare in another. A special rule would force the Senate to vote on both. So, the Democrat-controlled Senate would face no pressure and approve the spending while rejecting the Obamacare defunding. The sole purpose of this unusual mechanism would be to bamboozle voters at home into thinking their congressman took a stand, when he actually surrendered without a fight.

The proposal didn’t go over well Tuesday at a rally at the Capitol sponsored by various Tea Party groups, where several speakers blasted the ploy. By Wednesday, a planned vote on the continuing resolution had been pulled.

House Republican leaders are still haunted by memories of the government shutdown under President Clinton 17 years ago, but it really wasn’t so bad as they remember. Non-essential bureaucrats were furloughed for just 28 days, and voters took it in stride. The following November, the GOP picked up two Senate seats and lost eight in the House, retaining comfortable control of the lower chamber. More importantly, the budget was balanced for the first time in a generation because Speaker Newt Gingrich stood his ground.

Instead of worrying about how to fool the electorate, House leaders must recognize there comes a time when running away is no longer an option.