By Alexander Bolton - 11/21/13 06:00 AM EST
Republican lawmakers who pushed the government shutdown to stop ObamaCare say their new plan is to sit back and watch the law self-destruct.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and other Tea Party allies of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) say the threat of a shutdown is no longer necessary to defund the Affordable Care Act (ACA) now that the administration’s rollout is flailing.
While Cruz is not ruling out another attempt to use government funding as leverage, his allies think they already have the political support they need to repeal the healthcare reform law.
“Leverage is building every day,” said Lee. “It won’t necessarily require us to rely on using the [continuing resolution].”
In a brief interview with The Hill, Cruz spoke of the pressing need to repeal ObamaCare, but did not discuss it in connection with the government funding resolution, which expires Jan. 15.
“There will be plenty of time to decide upon particular tactics,” he said. “What I think is critical is that we keep our focus where it belongs, which is stopping the train wreck which is ObamaCare.”
His office said he is not ruling anything in or out.
“In my view it is the essence of pragmatism to acknowledge ObamaCare is not working — let’s start over,” he said. “What we need to focus on is fixing the problem Congress has created.”
While Cruz and his allies were accused of making a tactical blunder by blocking a government spending resolution that funded ObamaCare, they say the tactic has cleared the path to victory.
A CBS News poll published Wednesday showed that 61 percent of the public disapprove of the ACA.
President Obama’s poll numbers are plunging as well, as an estimated 5 million people have received notice that their insurance is being canceled — something that Obama had promised wouldn’t happen.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who stood with Cruz on linking the defunding of ObamaCare to a stopgap government spending measure, predicted this week that Democrats would soon turn against the law.
“It will have to be repealed,” Rubio said.
“The upper echelons of the Democratic Party, they are still being very stubborn about it. But my prediction is, check back in eight weeks,” he told Fox.
Michael Czin, a Democratic Party spokesman, accused Tea Party conservatives of ginning up for another shutdown battle.
“Now Senator Rubio is getting the band back together and inching us closer to a another government shutdown over ObamaCare,” he said.
While the public backlash against the healthcare law is good news for Republicans, some worry it could embolden Cruz and his allies to blow their advantage by again using the expiration of government funding to target the ACA.
The Republican Party’s approval rating plunged to historic lows during the 16-day government shutdown.
Cruz, on the other hand, was transformed into a national political figure. Conservative activists heaped praise on him for leading the battle against the healthcare law, and he is now seen as a leading potential candidate in the 2016 Iowa presidential caucuses.
GOP leaders are trying to head off a replay of the shutdown by pledging that events will not follow the same script that played out in September and October.
“We will not have a government shutdown,” Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the House Budget Committee chief, said this week at The Wall Street Journal’s annual CEO Council. “We will keep the government funding at the current level if need be.”
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has ruled out a shutdown as well. “There is no education in the second kick of a mule. There will not be a government shutdown.”
Tea Party-affiliated lawmakers are coming around to the leadership view that it makes little sense to create another standoff over the healthcare law.
“It doesn’t make a whole of sense to push another big showdown over ObamaCare with the CR because we think that’s going to happen organically,” said a conservative Senate aide.
Tea Party conservatives in the House say they don’t foresee another effort to block government funding over the ACA.
“You can only do that one time,” said Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), one of the House conservatives who held a secret meeting with Cruz at Tortilla Coast during the height of the October shutdown battle.
“It would have been better if Republicans stood strong together the first time. I think we’ve already played that card and can’t play it again,” he said.
Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who attended a meeting Wednesday of House conservatives known as the Republican Study Committee, said there’s talk of again linking ObamaCare to the expiration of government funds in January.
But conservatives are not weighing the tactic as seriously as they did earlier this year.
“That’s always out there. That’s not a focus now,” he said.
Senate conservatives say they are discussing legislative options for easing the transition if ObamaCare is repealed.
A sudden halt to the law’s implementation, which Cruz and Lee demanded in September, has become less practical because insurance companies are in the midst of transitioning to new government-backed marketplaces.
Conservative lawmakers worry a sudden stoppage of the law’s rollout could play havoc with premiums and the availability of various plans.
“We need some kind of gradual wind-down. Whether it’s three months or six months, that remains to be seen,” said a Senate aide.