Conservative groups are shifting their approach to fighting ObamaCare.
Powerful grassroots organizations appear ready to back House GOP leadership on “targeted strikes” to weaken the law, a strategy they criticized as insufficiently aggressive in the months before the government closed.
They hope that piecemeal votes against ObamaCare will put points on the board and magnify Democratic divisions ahead of next year’s midterm elections.
“I think everyone is taking a step back, to be honest,” said FreedomWorks Executive Vice President Adam Brandon, who frequently talks with other major groups like Heritage Action.
“Everyone is in communication, and we’re just asking: What is the best way to accomplish our ultimate goal? There’s no daylight between us on repealing the law, but tactics and strategy are important.”
The rethink comes after a disastrous shutdown saga that saw GOP poll numbers drop to historic lows.
The shutdown was precipitated by conservative demands that President Obama defund or delay his healthcare reform law in exchange for funding the government or raising the debt ceiling.
“It’s a very humbling thing to fall on your face,” said a source close to GOP leadership who predicted the tactical about-face.
“The people who talked others into a failed strategy are not in a position to demand another kamikaze flight.”
While the movement’s face was Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican had powerful allies in FreedomWorks, Heritage Action and the Club for Growth.
Each group threatened at various times to punish Republican lawmakers who did not take a strong enough stance against the healthcare law, throwing a wrench in attempts by GOP leadership to avoid a shutdown.
Killing the Affordable Care Act remains their No. 1 goal, the groups say. They emphasize that each anti-ObamaCare bill must be considered on its own terms.
But the groups’ reticence to disown a piecemeal approach speaks volumes.
The next window on conservative strategy will come when GOP leadership holds a vote in response to the botched rollout of HealthCare.gov.
Republican sources indicated that the response could be a vote to delay the individual mandate for one year.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) is also pushing a bill to allow people to keep healthcare plans that do not meet ObamaCare’s standards for an additional year.
Conservative groups left room for endorsing these approaches, provided the final bills contain no surprises.
“Whatever the fight is, we want to be involved in that fight,” said one prominent activist.
“If there is a good delay bill, I certainly wouldn’t want to sacrifice that just holding out for something else.”
Republicans see an opening in the step-by-step strategy with 10 Senate Democrats, including seven who are up for reelection next year, moving to support extending the healthcare enrollment period.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D), a centrist from West Virginia, is also preparing legislation to delay the individual mandate.
Both are notable signs of fracture among Senate Democrats, who remained in near lock-step during the shutdown battle as Republicans broke apart.
Conservative groups say they’re ready to pinpoint vulnerable Dems with targeted bills and that activists are energized to elect “more Ted Cruzs” in 2014.
Brandon said his strategy is a repudiation of those who say conservatives should stand back and let ObamaCare “collapse under its own weight.”
FreedomWorks has endorsed a bill from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to delay the individual mandate until HealthCare.gov is working well.
“I want to stay on the offensive,” Brandon said.
Original proponents of the piecemeal strategy said it should have happened three months ago, allowing the GOP to avoid the shutdown mess.
“This was the obvious thing to do,” said a GOP source. “We tried something else, and it failed spectacularly.”