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House G.O.P. to Plan Next Step as Budget Clock Runs Down

Jonathan Weisman
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Getty Images

WASHINGTON — House Republicans will meet in a rare Saturday session as they plan their next move to keep the government open past midnight on Monday while extracting major concessions on President Obama's health care law.

The Senate turned up the pressure on the House on Friday, passing a stopgap spending bill that would keep the government financed through Nov. 15 while leaving the health care law intact. Now, House Republicans must decide whether to accept the measure, attach minor changes to the health care law that could win Democratic support, or confront the Senate anew by again tying further government financing to a gutting of the law.

Any move short of passing the Senate bill is likely to shut down the government, at least briefly, unless it is accompanied by a measure that would finance the government for at least a few days. That would allow the Republican to keep their struggle alive.

(Read more: Why markets should pray for a US government shutdown)

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In his Saturday radio and Internet address, the president will accuse Republicans in the House of being "more concerned with appeasing an extreme faction of their party than working to pass a budget that creates new jobs or strengthens the middle class," according to a transcript released in advance.

"And in the next couple days, these Republicans will have to decide whether to join the Senate and keep the government open, or create a crisis that will hurt people for the sole purpose of advancing their ideological agenda," he adds. "The American people have worked too hard to recover from crisis to see extremists in their Congress cause another one."

Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, will use the Republican radio address on Saturday to shift the debate to another important deadline, Oct. 17, when Congress must raise the government's statutory borrowing limit or risk a potentially catastrophic default on the national debt.

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"The president is now demanding that we increase the debt limit without engaging in any kind of bipartisan discussions about addressing our spending problem," Ms. Rodgers said. "He wants to take the easy way out — exactly the kind of foolishness that got us here in the first place."

Congressional Republicans are waging a two-front political war: one with Mr. Obama and the Democrats, the other within their own ranks.

The House Republicans' meeting, which is to begin at noon, is intended to produce spending legislation that is coupled with Republican health care demands, and the measure would face a vote on Sunday. That would leave the Senate just one day to deal with the House legislation before much of the government closes down for lack of funds. Without unanimous support in the Senate, the rules of the chamber would never let any such measure pass that quickly.

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It is unclear how the House will proceed. Divisions within the Republican caucus have prevented the leadership from presenting a united front or developing a coherent strategy that would keep the government operating and raise the debt limit while extracting demands from the Democrats. House conservatives, encouraged by hard-liners in the Senate like Ted Cruz of Texas, torpedoed a plan by the leadership to tie an increase in the debt ceiling to a laundry list of Republican priorities. They argued that the leadership was pushing legislation that contained too little deficit reduction and undermined the push to gut the health care law.

Republicans are split between moderates who are searching for fig-leaf concession to keep the government open and conservatives who will accept nothing less than a one-year delay in the health care law. Enrollment in the law's new insurance exchanges begins on Tuesday.

"I've been very clear," said Representative Charlie Dent, a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania. "I do not support shutting the government down. I do not support default — under any circumstances."

House conservatives insist that Democrats will give in to their demands rather than defend a health care law that the Republicans say is unpopular with voters in both parties. Sixty-one House Republicans introduced legislation on Friday evening to delay the law, the Affordable Care Act, for one year, and they said they would attach the measure to the Senate spending bill. That voting bloc is large enough to dictate the debate if its members can stick together.

(Read more: Art Cashin: Expect a 'very tough Monday')

"The Democrats realize that we need to delay Obamacare by one year because it's not ready for prime time," said Representative Raúl Labrador, Republican of Idaho. "It's not ready for action,"

But even in the conservative ranks, there is little agreement about the demands that should be made to keep the government open. Social conservatives are seeking to attach language to the next version of a stopgap spending bill that would allow employers and health care providers to opt out of the requirement that insurance policies cover contraception. Representative Chris Smith, Republican of New Jersey, said it "would be unconscionable" to vote for even a short-term spending measure without it.

That has left Senate Democrats exasperated. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, took a hard line on Friday, saying he would not accept any changes to the health care law, no matter how minor, if they were the price to prevent a government shutdown. He backed that up by announcing that the Senate would meet again on Monday, on the eve of the shutdown, and allow the House to struggle through the weekend.

Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said there could be no negotiations until House Republicans united around a position.

"They don't yet," he said.

By Jonathan Weisman of The New York Times