By Russell Berman, Molly K. Hooper and Elise Viebeck - 09/17/13 10:00 AM EDT
Some House conservatives believe they would have a better shot at targeting President Obama’s healthcare law in fiscal fights after a crucial Oct. 1 deadline when, they argue, new insurance rates will reignite public opposition to the law. [WATCH VIDEO]
The argument highlights a deep strategic split within the House GOP about how best to extract concessions from Democrats on healthcare.
But with the backing of leadership, others are more comfortable waiting until a subsequent debate over lifting the debt limit, which is likely to occur in mid-October.
Those conservatives are betting that the rates in many states will be higher than predicted, further eroding public support for a law that polls continue to show is unpopular.
“The idea is that there’s going to be more bad news to come out after Oct. 1 about ObamaCare, and so the momentum will continue to build in our direction that ObamaCare is a bad idea, so delay helps us,” Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) said.
Second-term Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) put himself in the camp arguing to have the fight after Oct. 1.
“The key question is when do you have the debate over flaws in the healthcare bill,” he said.
“Some of us believe that it’s better to have the debate after the rates are published,” Scott continued, “and some of us believe that it’s better to have the debate now.”
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his top lieutenants must decide this week how to craft a stopgap spending bill after they put off a vote on their preferred plan last week amid a conservative rebellion.
The leadership plan would have kept the government running, even if the Senate voted down a measure defunding the healthcare law.
More than 60 Republicans have signed on to a continuing resolution from conservative Rep. Tom Graves (Ga.) that would fund the government for one year while withholding money for the implementation of the healthcare law. It would also incorporate three full-year appropriations bills that passed the House with bipartisan support.
The leadership has not endorsed the proposal, and aides said late Monday that no decision had been made on a spending bill.
“They haven’t come out in opposition to it, so I think it’s still being considered,” Graves said in a phone interview Monday.
He said there was no need to wait until the debt-ceiling fight or the publication of the insurance rates to push for defunding the healthcare law.
“Our focus is on the next 14 days, and I believe the American people are already on our side on this,” Graves said. “I believe right now is the time we should act, as do many of my colleagues.”
Republican leaders have argued in private that voters would blame the GOP if a fight over healthcare forced a government shutdown.
At the same time, President Obama vowed again Monday not to negotiate over the debt ceiling, and Democrats have been adamant that they would never agree to roll back the healthcare law in fiscal negotiations.
“I will not negotiate over whether or not America keeps its word and meets its obligations,” Obama said in remarks timed to the fifth anniversary of the 2008 financial crisis.
“I will not negotiate over the full faith and credit of the United States. This country has worked too hard, for too long, to dig out of a crisis just to see their elected representatives here in Washington purposely cause another crisis.”
Citing Obama’s stance, conservative Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) questioned why GOP leaders believed they could extract more in a debt-ceiling fight than in a battle over a short-term spending bill.
“I’m not really clear why they believe that,” he said. “I think [focusing] on the [continuing resolution] is the best way for us to approach this.”
Labrador blamed Boehner for saying that he would not allow the U.S. to default on its debt.
“The problem is that John Boehner has already said that he will not go past the deadline of the debt ceiling, and when you do that, you’re kind of undermining your negotiation,” Labrador said.
“You don’t have a strong position when you’re negotiating when you say you are unwilling to go past a certain deadline. So it doesn’t matter what happens with the rates. If the Democrats already know that John Boehner is not going to default on the debt, then they know that they don’t have to negotiate with you.”
Asked to respond to Labrador, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said, “The Speaker has been clear: Our goal is to force President Obama and Senate Democrats to work with us to cut spending and reform government — not to default on the debt.”
Enrollment in the new insurances exchanges under the law begins Oct. 1, and premiums are expected to vary by state.
Some patients buying coverage individually, including smokers, may see their prices rise as insurance plans expand to meet new requirements under ObamaCare. Others will see their costs fall in states like New York, which announced that prices for individual plans would drop by half under the new healthcare law.
“To date, they have been a wildly mixed bag,” said Sabrina Corlette, senior research fellow at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms.
Conservatives have played up predictions of “rate shock” from GOP-led states like Ohio, Indiana and Georgia to argue that ObamaCare is dramatically raising healthcare costs. The reform will force people to carry coverage they do not want nor need, critics charge.
Federal officials note that many rate releases have been incomplete and insist that consumers will see lower-than-expected prices on Oct. 1. In some states, published rates have reflected the average cost of a variety of different plans rather than a range of price points consumers will choose from.
“The problem and the challenge is these rates can be spun in a multitude of ways,” said Corlette, a supporter of the law.