(Bloomberg) — House Republicans return to Washington today still at loggerheads over how to thwart President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act without shutting down the federal government on Oct. 1.

House Republican leaders are considering alternatives that would mollify those who want to defund and delay the president’s signature domestic achievement.

House Speaker John Boehner “believes that threatening a government shutdown or engaging in one is not only bad for the country but I think he believes it is the only way that Republicans lose the House in the next election,” says Steve Bell, a senior director at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.

With two weeks left before government funding expires, congressional Republicans are setting up a confrontation with Obama over a provision in the health care law that allows individuals to sign up for insurance exchanges starting Oct. 1. This clash will occur against the backdrop of a two-year battle over federal spending and revenue levels.

One scenario involves a stopgap measure that defunds and delays the ACA while financing the rest of the government agencies. Such legislation would be stronger than Republican leaders’ proposal last week to compel the Senate to vote on defunding the ACA without endangering money needed to keep the government running.

Democrats’ firewall

Whichever scenario the Republican-led House settles on this week, the Democratic-led Senate is certain to alter it and insist on saving the president’s signature domestic achievement. The Senate then probably would send back to the House the spending legislation that preserves the health law, forcing a final vote that would attract enough Republican and Democratic votes to pass.

Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor have been making the case that a better venue for staging a fight over the health care law is legislation to authorize an increase in the debt limit. Still, dozens of Republicans don’t want to forgo the spending bill for the debt-limit debate.

“The irony is this: that they can’t defund it through the appropriations process,” Bell says. Much of the health care law involves mandatory rather than discretionary spending, he says.

Entitlements debate

The Affordable Care Act funding falls in the same category with other entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. That is why House leaders have intensified their case to rank-and-file members that negotiations over raising the nation’s debt limit in mid-October will be a better venue for attacking the health care law.

Congressional Republicans want to force cuts to entitlement programs in exchange for increasing borrowing authority.

“The best fight for ‘Obamacare’ is the debt limit,” Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee and the Republican 2012 vice presidential nominee, said last week.

House Republicans haven’t settled on a new strategy to fund the government. That will also determine how they will handle the debt-limit debate. Leaders are scheduled to meet with the entire Republican conference tomorrow.

With time running short, Cantor told members last week that the House may cancel a planned recess the week of Sept. 23 to negotiate on the spending measure.

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