By Russell Berman and Molly K. Hooper - 08/02/13 10:00 AM EDT
For Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), ObamaCare is the predicament that won’t go away. [WATCH VIDEO]
Months after proclaiming ObamaCare the “law of the land,” the Speaker is trying to sell the House GOP on a series of “targeted strikes” against the healthcare overhaul, rather than a defunding effort that senior Republicans worry will backfire. The latest missile will be launched Friday, when the House will vote on a measure to bar the IRS from enforcing the law and collecting revenue to pay for it.
Boehner and his allies want to head off an effort by conservatives to demand that the healthcare law be defunded in a stopgap spending measure that Congress must pass to avert a government shutdown at the end of September.
Several senators and House members joined a Tea Party press conference on Thursday in support of the effort, where Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said defunding the law in September was the “last, best chance” that Republicans would have to stop it from fully taking effect.
The Speaker privately opposes the strategy, but he has yet to rule it out and wants to let his conference determine the way forward over the August recess. He said on Thursday that no decisions had been made on how to construct the stopgap bill, known as a continuing resolution (CR).
The healthcare law is one in long line of issues on which Boehner has had to navigate between hardline conservatives who want to fight and the political reality of a Democratic president and a Democratic-led Senate who have made clear they will not yield.
Yet the current debate is a far cry from the immediate aftermath of the November election, when Boehner seemed to signal a willingness to move on from a law that had been upheld by the Supreme Court and resealed by the election of Obama to a second term.
After Republican leaders could not pass a bill this spring that tried to fix but not wholly repeal part of the law, Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) scheduled a full repeal vote on the floor, explaining that new GOP members wanted the opportunity to fulfill a campaign pledge to their constituents.
The strategy shifted again last month after the Obama administration announced a one-year delay of the law’s employer mandate. Boehner seized on the move to argue that the White House was giving a break to businesses but not to individuals by delaying only one of the two major mandates. He and Cantor quickly scheduled votes to delay both the employer and individual mandates, and they cheered when more than 20 Democrats voted for each bill.
“We should view the delay votes this month as the opening salvo in a series of well-placed, targeted strikes that will ultimately dissolve the ObamaCare coalition and topple this train wreck of a law,” Boehner told House Republicans in a closed-door meeting this week.
So far, a groundswell in favor of drawing a line in the sand over healthcare has yet to emerge. In interviews, several members cited a finding by the Congressional Research Service that because the healthcare law’s funding comes from mandatory spending, a continuing resolution wouldn’t stop it entirely.
“The difficulty I have with that is everyone that says if you do defund ObamaCare in a CR, that’s going to solve ObamaCare, and it takes it out. That’s factually not true,” said Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.), chairman of the Republican Policy Committee. “The law still stands. Nothing has changed about that.”
Lawmakers are also wary of rooting for a government shutdown.
“I do not want to see the government shut down,” freshman Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.) said. “ObamaCare will still be funded even if the government shuts down, so I don’t understand in the big scheme of things what the plan is.”
“We have soldiers that need to get paid, Social Security checks that need to be issued and Medicare,” he added. “And I don’t want to see any of that threatened.”
People close to Boehner say he is unfazed by the pressure over healthcare, staying true to his generally unflappable nature.
“He doesn't seem to be bending under the pressure or anything; he seems pretty cool, calm and collected to me,” Rep. John Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.) said. “There's always some battle when you are the Speaker. It's a tough job.”
A handful of lawmakers at the House GOP conference meeting on Wednesday told The Hill they were struck that Boehner did not mention the impending government funding bill in the context of the healthcare law.
Further, a member of the majority-making 2010 GOP class told The Hill that Cantor has been the one who is more vocal in arguing against "mixing" the continuing resolution and defunding ObamaCare.
Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R) said that he agreed with Boehner’s strategy to continue trying to dismantle the healthcare law with different pieces of legislation.
Fitzpatrick said he favored the strategy of passing bipartisan bills to repeal smaller portions of ObamaCare, seven of which have been signed into law.
“That has been our approach, whether it's been Independent Payment Advisory Board or medical device tax — piece by piece, we take a provision of the bill, we take it to our districts, we talk about it, we have meetings about it, meet with physicians, taxpayers, the public, and that's the approach that the Speaker prefers. I think it makes sense,” Fitzpatrick said.
Still, others want a more aggressive strategy.
“I ran in 2010, when ObamaCare was an issue that we ran on,” Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) said, “America and my district sent us to Washington to fight to repeal this intrusive, huge government program that spends money we don't have ... I'm not going to vote for a CR that continues to fund the implementation of it.”