Tensions Grow Between GOP, Conservatives On ‘Obamacare’

Tensions are rising between the GOP and its conservative base as top Republican lawmakers gradually pivot in favor of some ‘Obamacare’ provisions.

In the latest instance, Senate Republican Conference Vice Chair Roy Blunt sparred on Twitter Thursday with Michelle Malkin after the conservative blogger wrote a post mercilessly going after him and other GOP lawmakers who have sympathized with parts of the health care law.

“These big-government Republicans show appalling indifference to the dire market disruptions and culture of dependency that Obamacare schemes have wrought,” Malkin wrote. “Who needs enemies when you’ve got Republican Surrenderists for Obamacare waiting in the wings?”

As a Supreme Court decision looms this month, Republicans are slowly realizing that they’ll be held responsible for a highly dysfunctional health care system if chunks of the law are overturned. And in recent weeks they’ve been creating wiggle room to support some of popular pieces of ‘Obamacare’ — including the coverage guarantee for pre-existing conditions, letting young adults remain on a parent’s policy until 26 and closing the Medicare prescription drug coverage gap — in a potential replacement plan. Election-year concerns add to the pressure they feel.

The hedging has come from leaders like House GOP Policy Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) to tea party darlings like Rep. Allen West (R-FL).

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA), the chairman of the GOP Doctors Caucus, last week called the under-26 provision “good policy” and said his party needs to have a plan to take care of sick people if ‘Obamacare’ is axed. “We have to make sure that we have a program — and we will, I can assure you we will — to take care of these folks,” he said, according to Bloomberg.

Prominent conservative groups like FreedomWorks and the Club For Growth aren’t happy and are warning Republicans not to go down that road.

The right flank of the congressional GOP isn’t hiding its misgivings either.

“Some would argue that maintaining mandates that have encouraged millions of young Americans to drop their existing coverage to obtain ‘free’ insurance through their parents is inconsistent with this objective [of improving the economy],” wrote arch-conservative Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) on his website, arguing that “conservatives should be concerned about government mandates on the private sector.”

Republicans on the Joint Economic Committee published a post on their web site warning that the under-26 provision will impose “costs and perverse incentives, both to the health system and the economy as a whole.”

GOP leaders are seeking to ease the fallout by emphasizing their commitment to full repeal before they bring up a replacement plan. But the upshot of the pivot is renewed concern within the conservative base as to whether Mitt Romney — whose signature accomplishment as Massachusetts governor was enacting a state-based version of ‘Obamacare’ — will stand by his promise to repeal the federal law if elected president.

“Where does presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney stand?” Malkin wrote. “Despite repeated assurances that he will abandon Obamacare in its entirety, Romney is surrounded by GOP socialized medicine helpmates.”

Adding another wrinkle into the mix Thursday was right-wing hero and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who left the door open to an individual mandate at the state level. At the libertarian Reason magazine, Peter Suderman explained what it all means.

“Walker’s comments [are] yet another reminder that the basic shape of ObamaCare — controls on the insurance market, mandatory purchase of insurance, and subsidies for private insurance delivered through government-run exchanges — was developed by Republicans and passed as RomneyCare by the party’s presidential nominee. And they show that GOP officials, a number of whom have spent the last month or so trying to reassure people that of course they don’t want to throw out the good parts of ObamaCare, hasn’t moved beyond those ideas except to oppose President Obama’s federal version of them.”

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