WASHINGTON -- House Republican leaders started this week with a strategy to appease their members and win passage of a spending bill that would avoid a federal government shutdown.
They ended the week without a vote, no plan in place and several days closer to the Oct. 1 deadline when government funding expires.
House members left Washington for the weekend Thursday after leaders shifted strategies in an effort to win over dissenting Republicans willing to risk a financial crisis to sidetrack President Barack Obama's health-care law. Republicans said they will try to use the spending-bill talks to delay the health-care law instead of defunding it.
Senate Democrats immediately rejected that idea.
"This is not the time for political stunts," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters. Democrats will insist on a "clean" spending bill without side issues, he said.
The Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year is the "drop-dead date" to enact a spending bill, Mr. Reid said. The House and Senate are scheduled to be in session for only five days during the rest of the month. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said the chamber may cancel a planned recess the week of Sept. 23 because of the negotiations.
The U.S. also will reach its debt ceiling as early as mid-October, requiring a congressional agreement to raise the limit.
Mr. Cantor and House Speaker John Boehner's initial strategy would have held up a spending bill until the Senate voted on repealing the health-care law. Dozens of fellow Republicans objected because the spending bill could be passed even if, as is likely, the Senate kept funding for the health law.
House members then started talking about voting for postponing the health law instead of trying to defund it.
Among them, Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said members realize that "we're better off with a delay." The talks are centered on how to "best" delay the law, he said.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said postponing the health-care law would be a "good fallback."
Another option being discussed by House Republicans is a plan to delay both the government funding and debt-ceiling fights until just before next year's midterm election, according to two House Republican aides who asked not to be identified because the talks were private.
That would entail a one-year government spending bill, a one-year delay of the health-care law's requirement that individuals obtain insurance, and a one-year extension of the debt ceiling, the aides said.
Mr. Obama and fellow Democrats said they won't agree to conditions in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.
The Obama administration would consider a "clean" stopgap measure to fund the government at existing levels while budget negotiations continue, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters yesterday. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California indicated that Democrats could vote for a short-term funding bill, a move that would give Mr. Boehner enough votes to keep the government running.
The House has voted 40 times to repeal, postpone or defund all or part of the health-care law. The Senate has refused to take up almost all of those measures. The 2010 health-care law, upheld last year by the U.S. Supreme Court, is designed to expand coverage to at least 30 million people.