WASHINGTON -- House Speaker John Boehner has assured his Republican caucus that the House will continue its bid to stop implementation of President Barack Obama's health care law, while not addressing a push from some in his party simply not to fund the measure.
Mr. Boehner also told lawmakers on a conference call Thursday night that across-the-board government spending cuts, known as sequestration, will stay in place until Mr. Obama proposes a replacement package, according to a person who was on the line and wasn't authorized to speak publicly about it.
Congressional Republicans and the Obama administration are gearing up for battles starting in early September over federal spending, the health care law and the nation's debt limit -- with the risk of a government shutdown and a downgrade of the U.S. credit rating hanging over the debates.
The health care law "remains broadly unpopular across America," 80 Republicans of the 233 in the chamber wrote in a letter to their leaders. "Most Americans still believe that health care should be controlled by patients and doctors, not by the government."
They are seeking to withhold money for the health care law, which was Mr. Obama's signature domestic policy achievement in his first term, from the must-pass stopgap spending measure to keep the government running after Oct. 1.
Mr. Boehner, R-Ohio, and his lieutenants have made no final decisions about whether to support the defunding as part of the stopgap funding measure or through another means, such as the debt-limit debate. Their decision will affect deliberations on government funding, as well as the need to increase the debt limit later this fall.
Mr. Boehner portrayed Mr. Obama as desperate to replace the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration, according to the person on the call.
Republicans have consistently opposed the president's push for tax increases to replace parts of the roughly $1 trillion in automatic cuts that started March 1 and are to continue over the next decade. Mr. Obama and Congress agreed to sequestration in 2011 to resolve that year's dispute over raising the debt limit. Treasury Department officials say the next increase in U.S. borrowing authority will be needed during the fall.
A group of Republican senators who have been meeting periodically with Mr. Obama since March to discuss a possible budget compromise planned to gather at the White House during the five-week congressional recess that began in August, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told reporters late last month. The meeting hasn't yet occurred, and could be scheduled for as soon as next week.
When lawmakers return to Washington on Sept. 9, their first task will be to negotiate a 60- to 90-day measure to fund the government for the start of the fiscal year Oct. 1. The legislation is expected to continue this year's funding level of $988 billion, a move that would gain enough bipartisan votes to pass both the House and Senate.
On the call, Mr. Boehner told lawmakers that he wanted the House to move quickly to pass the funding measure and confirmed that it would continue the current spending levels.
On health care, the speaker said the House will hold votes aimed at chipping away at the support from Democrats that is helping the president keep the 2010 law in place. In bills that passed the House in July to delay two of the law's main provisions, 35 Democrats voted with the Republican majority to delay the so-called employer mandate and 22 voted to postpone the so-called individual mandate.
Democrats who control the Senate have declined to bring up either bill.
The White House announced July 3 that it would postpone for a year the requirement that companies with 50 or more workers provide health insurance to employees. The administration is moving ahead with the individual mandate, which requires most Americans to carry health insurance.
The Obama administration in the past has said the president would veto legislation that withholds money for carrying out the health care law, raising the specter of a government shutdown if congressional Republicans attach such a provision to a bill funding government operations.
Congressional Republicans are divided over the political wisdom of risking a government shutdown. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., has called it "the dumbest idea I've ever heard of."
Since Republicans took control of the House in 2011, they have voted 40 times to repeal, defund or delay the health care law.