- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 15, 2013

House Republican leaders were searching for votes Tuesday to pass a debt increase and stopgap spending bill, facing a rebellion within their own ranks from lawmakers who felt their latest proposal to make two small dents in Obamacare wasn’t enough of a victory.

Speaker John A. Boehner emerged from a two-hour meeting to tell reporters he’s talking with Republicans and Democrats — a sign of trouble for his plan to raise the debt and reopen the government while repealing an Obamacare tax and requiring President Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden and other top political appointees to participate in health insurance exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act.

“There have been no decisions about what exactly we will do,” Mr. Boehner said.

An hour earlier rank-and-file Republicans came out of the meeting to say their leaders had proposed taking a plan being worked on in the Senate and attaching the two Obamacare changes, and were going to put that bill on the House floor later Tuesday.

But by 11 Mr. Boehner and his chief lieutenants sounded much less certain, and several Republicans said it would be a close vote if the bill were brought to the floor.

Democratic leaders said not to count on them for help in getting the bill through the House, and the White House also rejected the latest House GOP plan, saying it preferred the Senate’s negotiations.

SEE ALSO: Senate ‘surrender caucus’ taking shape as deal nears, conservatives warn

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid went further, calling the House GOP’s effort to write a bill a “blatant attack on bipartisanship.”

The Nevada Democrat said he and his Republican counterpart, Sen. Mitch McConnell, had been making good progress toward a deal and for Mr. Boehner to announce his own plan was insulting.

“We felt blindsided,” Mr. Reid said.

He and Mr. McConnell have been negotiating since Saturday, but with no agreement reached yet, and the outlines of what they are discussing falls far short of what House Republicans say they can accept, which is why Mr. Boehner proposed his own alternative.

Mr. Reid personally attacked Mr. Boehner, saying he is kowtowing to “extreme” elements of the GOP in order to maintain his speakership.

“I am very disappointed in John Boehner, who once again tried to preserve his role at the expense of the country,” Mr. Reid said.

The White House has steadfastly resisted any major changes to its health law, and has rejected attaching any strings to bills to reopen the government and raise the Treasury Department’s borrowing limit, set to be breached on Thursday.

“The president has said repeatedly that members of Congress don’t get to demand ransom for fulfilling their basic responsibilities to pass a budget and pay the nation’s bills,” said White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage. “Unfortunately, the latest proposal from House Republicans does just that in a partisan attempt to appease a small group of tea party Republicans who forced the government shutdown in the first place.”

But that strenuous reaction from Mr. Reid and Mr. Obama angered Republicans, who said it was embarrassing for Democrats to shoot down the House plan so quickly, without giving it a chance.

“For the majority leader and the Democrats in the House and the White House to say, ‘Absolutely, categorically not, we will not consider what the Republicans in the House of Representatives are doing,’ is piling on. It’s piling on, and it’s not right,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.

House Republican leaders had hoped they’d found popular changes that would be able to win widespread support among the GOP and also earn backing from some Democrats who want to distance themselves from Obamacare.

Key among those changes was the plan to make Mr. Obama, Mr. Biden and their Cabinet officials have to participate in the health exchanges, without government subsidies, the same as many other Americans.

“If Obamacare is good for members of Congress, then it’s good for the president,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican.

House Democratic leaders said the GOP was being “irresponsible” by not just raising the debt outright, with a deadline looming.

“It appears that once again our House Republican colleagues are prepared to put the economy at risk to advance their political agenda,” Rep. Xavier Becerra, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus told reporters Tuesday morning.

Rep. Joseph Crowley, New York Democrat, predicted that the House Republicans’ bill will never pass the Senate and may not even pass the House.

Jacqueline Klimas contributed to this article.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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