WASHINGTON -- House Republicans may appear to observers to be pushing the government toward a shutdown, but that's not even remotely how they see it.
The GOP rank-and-file still believe that the Senate might accept and the White House might sign a one-year delay of Obamacare in exchange for two months of sequester-level spending to briefly stave off a government shutdown.
"How dare you?" Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said when reporters asked how the House would respond when the Senate rejected its offer. He grew angrier as he continued to question how one could assume the bill was dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
"I have never foreseen a government shutdown and I continue not to see a government shutdown," said Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.), who was a senior Hill staffer before being elected to Congress in 2010. "The Senate has plenty of time to deal with this. This is good, common middle ground that is in this package. I think we're gonna get a big bipartisan vote in the House. I think we're gonna get a big vote in the Senate too."
Voters in survey after survey overwhelmingly say Republicans will be to blame for any shutdown. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has repeatedly said that all GOP attempts to attach Obamacare changes to a government funding bill will be rejected out of hand. President Barack Obama has consistently promised a veto.
Yet it hasn't penetrated. House Republicans' inability to recognize the same reality as voters and their opponents has made it virtually impossible to come to a deal.
"We just need to stand firm. I think we may get Democrats on this," said Rep. Tom Massie (R-Ky.).
A reporter asked why the president would sign a bill undermining his signature health care law. "He had 22 Democrats vote for a delay of the individual mandate back in July. I think you will get Democrats. I will predict that," Massie said Saturday afternoon. Republicans did get Democrats to support them in the vote that happened later on Saturday -- two of them, the same number of Republicans who switched sides.
Much of the GOP thinking seems to be rooted in the fact that Obama has already delayed some provisions. So why not delay the whole law?
"The president is setting a precedent of delays," said Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) "So based on that precedent I think we have a strong argument."
"I don't think he would sign a repeal. I don't think he would sign a defund, and that's where I disagree with my colleagues in the Senate," he added. "They've set expectations for the American people unrealistically. I don't see this president signing a repeal. But a delay, he's been delaying it more than anyone."
One optimistic Republican, echoing many others, said that a delay ought to be agreeable since the GOP had started out with a much more extreme position. "You're going from saying, 'Do away with Obamacare for good, total, ever, ever and ever,' to saying, 'Just delay it, suspend it, just for 12 months.' That's a big concession," said Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.).
The happy talk is not just for public consumption. "House Rs, even in priv[ate], can't concede yet that their delay CR will fail; have to see it fail and then mull options," Robert Costa of National Review tweeted on Saturday evening.
Even Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), despite his previous criticism of attempts to defund Obamacare through a continuing resolution to fund the government, argued that the new gambit might pay dividends.
"It's up to the president -- he can shut down the government, but he's delayed a lot of [Obamacare] already," Cole told reporters Saturday. "I mean, he's delayed part after part after part of it."
Reid "might not have the votes" to strip out the amendments to delay the law or repeal the medical device tax, Cole added. "We know at least some Senate Democrats are anxious for or support a delay ... the medical device tax has already gotten 70-odd votes over there."
Other lawmakers also pinned their hopes on red-state Senate Democrats who've criticized elements of Obamacare.
"I think there are a number of Democrat senators who secretly want a one-year delay," said Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.). "This device tax may be what they need."
"These are two things that really unite us the most: the device tax and the delay of one year," Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) said. "The thing about the device tax is 79 senators voted for that previously … we could well get a number of Democrats to vote for this, too."
When a reporter noted to Grimm that the GOP plan virtually assured a shutdown, he took issue with the assertion, though without the anger Issa showed.
"Well, that's your opinion. I mean, we'll see," he said. "If [Democrats] don't come to the table and negotiate at all, then I really feel that they are causing a shutdown. Because you just can't have a position of we won't deal at all and anything you do you're responsible for a shutdown. I mean, the media has painted it that way because of the side show coming out of the Republican Senate, but that's just not the reality."
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