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Republican leader links health reform delay to U.S. debt increase

U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) (C) arrives for a briefing to all members of Congress by senior Obama administration officials
U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) (C) arrives for a briefing to all members of Congress by senior Obama administration officials

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - House Republican leaders on Tuesday floated their strategy for thwarting "Obamacare" health reforms in autumn fiscal debates.

They plan to try to link a one-year delay in funding Obamacare with a deal on raising the debt limit, while seeking to deny implementation money for Obamacare in a stop-gap government funding measure.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told House Republicans in a closed-door meeting that delaying all or part of Obamacare would be a key goal in the debt limit debate, party aides said.

Cantor is planning to hold a House vote later this week on his plan to deny funds to the health care law while extending government spending authority, but Republican conservatives say that the measure will likely prove ineffective.

The House plan for a stop-gap funding measure known as a continuing resolution, or CR, would be split into two parts, allowing the Senate to reject the portion defunding Obamacare while passing and sending the stop-gap funding measure to President Barack Obama. The plan would reduce changes of a government shutdown.

Cantor's and House Speaker John Boehner's logic is that the Senate would be forced to take a difficult vote to actively provide funding to launch Obamacare health insurance exchanges, which Republicans believe will be unpopular with voters.

While the House has voted 40 times to repeal, defund, or limit Obamacare since its passage in 2010, the Democratic-controlled Senate has chosen to simply ignore most of these measures.

"We will send to the Senate the provision which says up or down, are you for defunding Obamacare or not?" Cantor said of his plan. "The House has taken a stand numerous times on its opinion of Obamacare. It's time for the Senate to stand up and tell their constituents where they stand on this atrocity of a law."

But conservatives expressed dissatisfaction with the plan, saying it would not take advantage of the leverage associated with the September 30 deadline for a new government funding measure and would amount to little more than another symbolic vote. They would prefer to threaten a government shutdown over the issue.

House Republican leaders "are trying to avoid actually having a vote to defund Obamacare in the house that counts," said Representative Tim Huelskamp of Kansas.

The House strategy to tie a debt limit to an Obamacare delay complicates a mid-October deadline over which President Barack Obama has voted not to negotiate. House Republicans also want to use the debt limit as leverage to demand deeper spending cuts on expensive federal benefits programs.

The U.S. Treasury has said that an increase in the $16.7 trillion debt limit is needed by mid-October to ensure that the U.S. government can meet all of its obligations, including debt payments.

(Reporting by David Lawder; editing by Jackie Frank)

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