The GOP push to hold government funding hostage to gutting Obamacare appears to be losing steam in Congress as a growing chorus of Republicans and conservative writers are coming out of the woodwork to urge hardliners within their party to be realistic.
“I think it’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard of,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) told reporters in the Capitol on Thursday. “Listen, as long as Barack Obama is president, the Affordable Care Act is going to be law.”
Republicans in the House and Senate are working to corner colleagues into withholding support for keeping government open after the lights go out on Sept. 30 unless Obamacare is defunded. And a growing number of pragmatic conservatives — in and out of Congress — recognize that’s a suicide mission that threatens the GOP’s credibility as well as its electoral prospects ahead of a promising midterm election.
In recent days, Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), a deputy majority whip, has derided the conservative effort as a “temper tantrum” and compared it to “blackmail.” Appearing Wednesday evening on Fox News, he warned that “it is the sort of thing that creates a backlash and could cost the Republicans the majority in the House.”
Meanwhile, two well-read conservative writers — Byron York of the Washington Examiner and Ramesh Ponnuru, a columnist for Bloomberg View — put the kibosh on this plan Friday.
In an article titled “No, the GOP is not going to defund Obamacare,” York reports that Republicans privately admit they’re embarking on a fool’s errand but have to show conservatives they’re sparing no effort to fight Obamacare.
Ponnuru calls the plan “disastrous” and warns that “it will backfire.” He lists several reasons why the public “would almost certainly blame Republicans” if the government shuts down — all of which are well understood by pragmatic Republicans who witnessed the Newt Gingrich-led shutdowns of the 1990s.
In the Senate, a letter by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) demanding Obamacare be defunded in a government funding or debt limit bill actually lost signatories, after some senators reportedly dropped off — including Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX). After initially leaking word that the letter had at least 15 signatories, the final version was released Thursday by Lee’s office with 11 GOP signatories — Sens. Lee, Marco Rubio (FL), Ted Cruz (TX), James Risch (ID), Rand Paul (KY), James Inhofe (OK), David Vitter (LA), John Thune (SD), Jeff Chiesa (NJ), Mike Enzi (WY), Deb Fischer (NE), and Chuck Grassley (IA).
“[W]e believe the only way to avert disaster is to fully repeal ObamaCare and start over with a more sensible, practical approach to reforming our healthcare system,” the letter reads. “For these reasons, we will not support any continuing resolution or appropriations legislation that funds further implementation or enforcement of ObamaCare.”
Cornyn’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment on why he dropped off. A Democratic leadership aide speculated that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was trying to isolate the signatories so he’s not forced to carry out their demands.
None of this means that it’s going to be easy for Republicans, particularly the ones who lead the House, to sidestep the voracious conservative appetite for going all out to thwart Obamacare. Various deep-pocketed and influential conservative groups, including Heritage Action and Club For Growth, are working hard to corner Republicans. Others, like FreedomWorks and Americans For Prosperity, are working to dissuade uninsured Americans from buying health insurance under the marketplaces set up by Obamacare.
“The establishment and base have moved so far apart the base is about ready to go third party or sit at home,” Erickson lamented in a blog post Friday. “We have seen this before. The GOP leadership will cave and dazzle the base with shiny objects.”
In the House, a letter circulated by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) calls on Republicans to push for defunding Obamacare in an upcoming continuing resolution but stops short of calling for an iron-clad commitment. At his weekly briefing Thursday, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) reiterated that he’ll keep trying to repeal and defund Obamacare but wouldn’t commit to demanding as much in a government funding measure.
“No decisions have been made about how we’re going to deal with the CR,” he said.