Obama Dares Republicans to Defy Tea Party on Obamacare, Shutdown Deal

The president injected himself into the GOP's intra-party struggle, asking moderates to help pass a budget compromise and debt-ceiling increase.

President Barack Obama, Brady Press Room Briefing (National Journal)

President Obama took a swipe at the Hard Right on Monday, accusing tea-party-aligned House Republicans of gambling with the nation's economy by threatening to shut down the government unless Obamacare is defunded.

In a sprawling economic speech, Obama called on Congress to avert a government shutdown by passing a budget, and he insisted he would brook no wrangling over a raise in the debt ceiling. Obama said such a shutdown, or even the possibility of default, would damage the still-fragile economic recovery.

Specifically, the president went after Republicans who say they won't vote for any budget deal that does not nullify the Affordable Care Act. "I cannot remember a time when one faction of one party promises economic chaos if it can't get 100 percent of what it wants," Obama said. "That's never happened before, and that's what happening right now."

Obama appealed to the rest of the Republican Party for help in brokering a budget compromise, challenging members to break with those calling for defunding Obamacare.

"Are some of these folks so beholden to one extreme wing of their party that they're willing to tank our whole economy?" he said. "Are they willing to hurt people?"

By going after one GOP "faction" and appealing to the other, Obama is seeking leverage in a tactical dispute that has vexed Republicans all summer. In one camp are legislators — headlined by  Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas — who are insisting that the party shut down the government unless funding is stripped for the health care law. Other Republicans, including much of the party's leadership, say they too want to defund the health care law, but they see connecting Obamacare to a government shutdown as too politically risky.

In seeking to further divide the camps, Obama is hoping to avert a government shutdown while also achieving some Democratic policy aims, such as rollbacks of the sequester-induced spending cuts that Obama on Monday said were hurting economic growth.

The government's current budget is set to expire Oct. 1. If Congress cannot pass a budget before then — a possibility that seems increasingly likely as days dwindle on the legislative calendar — it has the option forestall shutdown by passing a short-term extension.