Obamacare is becoming a huge headache for the Republican Party.
Conservative advocacy groups are rallying behind House legislation backed by 43 Republicans
to threaten a government shutdown unless Obamacare is defunded, undercutting GOP leaders' efforts to lock in low spending levels
by goading the party into a self-defeating confrontation.
Within 24 hours of its Thursday release, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) threw his support behind the bill, as did the well-funded groups Club For Growth, FreedomWorks and Heritage Action.
"The Club for Growth strongly supports the legislation offered by Congressman Tom Graves to save America from Obamacare," said Chris Chocola, the group's president, boasting that "momentum is building" to stop the health care reform law.
House GOP leaders, who have few votes to spare, are determined to pass their proposal
to continue spending at sequestration levels and force a Senate vote to defund Obamacare without risking a shutdown. House leadership is open to tweaking the specifics but they want to achieve three goals: continue the sequester, give Senate Republicans a chance to fight Obamacare and maintain leverage against the health care going into the debt limit fight. The 43 Republicans behind the Graves bill haven't implicitly committed to opposing leaders' version.
"House Republicans have been fighting Obamacare for three years and we've achieved several victories. We're happy that Senators Cruz and Lee
are joining us in this fight, and we want to give them the opportunity to fight it," said a senior House GOP aide. "And we're happy that these groups have finally recognized that a delay strategy is smarter than a defund strategy. Now we hope they can help us strategically get that victory as opposed to squandering it."
Conservatives, meanwhile, are undercutting -- and infuriating -- Republican leaders who want to be pragmatic about what they can achieve in the continuing resolution. Democrats, they recognize, are vulnerable on spending levels but won't cave
on Obamacare. As a result, if the hard right's desires get in the way of reaffirming sequestration cuts (even temporarily), the GOP may lose on all fronts. Veteran Republicans realize the party out of power will be blamed if the government shuts down, and their negotiating hand weakened over how much it should spend upon re-opening.
The conservative opposition to Obamacare has become unappeasable and it's tearing the GOP apart. The base is anxious to make a stand now because implementation of the law is set to accelerate on Oct. 1 and its major components poised to take effect on Jan. 1. Advocates privately gloat about their chances of sticking it to GOP leaders as they mobilize in favor of a standoff. Stare down President Barack Obama until he blinks on his own signature achievement, they demand of the GOP, even if it means shutting down the government. But Republican leaders aren't optimistic that he'll blink, and worry that initiating this battle could damage their already weak brand and threaten their otherwise secure House majority.
The House GOP leadership proposal entails a two-pronged bill to fund the government until Dec. 15 at sequestration levels and force the Senate to vote on defunding Obamacare. The Senate can reject the Obamacare component, as is expected, and send the rest of the continuing resolution straight to the president's desk.
Republican leaders tentatively plan on bringing up a stopgap measure next week, and aides maintain an air of confidence about success. They face a tough road to securing the votes for just about any bill to keep the government open. Will they succeed?
"That remains to be seen," said a House GOP leadership aide.