Just when they seemed to have the situation under control, Republican leaders are facing the wrath of conservatives who are furious that the heads of the party aren’t interested in risking a government shutdown over Obamacare this fall.
Conservative anxieties over the Affordable Care Act are reaching a boil as the law’s major provisions are set to take effect in the coming months. And an all-out grassroots mobilization during the month-long August recess by wealthy right-leaning groups like FreedomWorks and Heritage Action appears to be having an impact. Republican lawmakers have said their constituents are demanding they refuse to vote to keep the federal government open after money expires on Sept. 30 unless President Obama’s signature law is defunded.“I’m hearing a lot of anger that is right beneath the surface, ready to erupt,” said veteran Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), according to The Hill. Burgess, who has influence within his caucus on health policy, said the support for the defunding push was “virtually unanimous.”
The Senate Conservatives Fund, a tea party group founded by former Sen. Jim DeMint, plans to launch a statewide campaign targeting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who is up for re-election next year, and aimed at making him “feel the heat” over Obamacare. The Kentuckian recently observed that a government shutdown “won’t stop Obamacare.”
The shutdown threat is being led by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT). “I think we should fund the government. I just don’t think we should fund ObamaCare,” Rubio said Thursday in Pensacola, flanked by businessmen who spoke out against the law.
Meanwhile, FreedomWorks has been keeping a tally of where GOP lawmakers stand on the issue. And Heritage Action’s CEO Michael Needham questioned the fortitude of House Republicans for backing away on the Obamacare shutdown push.
“Washington loves to play this game of saying something can’t be done,” he said on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program. “Politicians like to set expectations as low as possible so they can’t help but trip over them.”
Republican leaders have sought to pull their members back from the brink and impress upon them that the strategy is doomed to fail, and that not even a government shutdown would stop funding for the implementation of vast chunks of the Affordable Care Act that aren’t subject to the annual appropriations process. And they’re correct: in order to actually postpone or weaken the core elements of law, President Obama would have to sign legislation that was passed by both chambers of Congress. Neither he nor Democrats have any intention of letting that happen. To persuade them to let the shutdown hostage go, senior Republicans have floated the idea of instead taking the debt ceiling hostage and threatening to let the country default if Democrats don’t agree to demands like unwinding Obamacare and dollar-for-dollar spending cuts.
But they’re facing a world of hurt from the conservative base.
“I have not heard, ‘Don’t shut down the government over ObamaCare,'” said Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN), describing recent town hall events in his district. “I have heard, ‘This law is not ready for primetime, and we need to do anything we can to stop it.'”
All of this makes it harder for Republicans to avoid a shutdown without compromising their standing among the conservative base. If nothing else, it raises the bar on the sorts of demands they’ll have to make, and the brinkmanship they’ll have to engage in, when it comes time to raise the country’s borrowing limit later this fall. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has already made unrealistically high promises to his members regarding the fiscal battles and the added pressure of the shutdown threat complicates his already tenuous strategy.
“Republican Leaders will fund Obamacare. They will cave,” wrote RedState editor and Fox News contributor Erick Erickson. “They will have lied to you about their opposition. And in reality they will be conceding they give up the fight. They just hope you are distracted. … Stay focused. Show up and confront your Congressman. Tell him if he votes to fund Obamacare, he cannot really say he is fighting against it.”
And expending their political capital on averting needless crises significantly harms the prospects of House GOP leaders marshaling immigration reform through the chamber, a project their conservative base is pushing hard to scuttle.