Republican leaders are insisting they'll make good on the party's election-season pledge to fight for full repeal of the new healthcare reform law.
But don't try to convince Rush Limbaugh.
The conservative talk-radio host said last week that, at a recent closed-door meeting in Florida, unnamed GOP "senators" told party donors that the Republican strategy is to restructure the healthcare law, not repeal it.
"I talked to a couple people that were there and they told me they went up to the senators and said, "Well, if this is your attitude, you can kiss 2012 goodbye,'" Limbaugh said on his show last Tuesday. "If this is the way you're looking at it, you can kiss any money from us and you can kiss 2012 goodbye.' So that's what [the lawmakers] were told by, quote-unquote, big donors and quasi-important people.
"That's just two of them that I know who were there."
The controversy over the GOP's approach to the healthcare law took off last week after outgoing Sen. Judd Gregg (N.H.), the senior Republican on the Budget Committee, suggested that repealing the law isn't the right strategy.
"I don't think starving or repealing is probably the best approach here," Gregg told the Fox Business Network last Tuesday. "You basically go in and restructure it."
On the same day, the Davis Intelligence Group reported that Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) recently told "high-dollar GOP donors" that most Senate Republicans — including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — also don't support the full repeal being pushed by conservatives on the campaign trail.
Both Corker and McConnell say that report is simply wrong, noting that Senate Republicans voted unanimously in March for full repeal of the law, just days after it was enacted.
"While we were unable to block the Democrats from passing the health spending bill — the single worst piece of legislation that’s passed since I’ve been in the Senate — the Republican leadership in the House and Senate is committed to its repeal," McConnell said last week in an e-mail.
"While Democrats will filibuster our efforts — and if we’re successful the President will veto — I believe we should give them that opportunity. We should vote, again, for repeal. Americans have spoken out, loud and clear, and we heard them. Repeal is part of the Pledge to America, and the Republican leadership is united in that effort."
Still, the idea that Republicans won't urge full repeal took off in the conservative blogosphere, with RedState's Erick Erickson taking shots at GOP leaders for being too moderate.
"You can be sure that Judd Gregg is not speaking out of turn and is not a lone wolf on this issue," Erickson wrote. "His view reflects that of the Senate GOP leadership despite their protestations to the contrary."
More recently, Limbaugh spokesman Kit Carson said Limbaugh's conversation with Florida donors only bolsters the credibility of reports that GOP leaders won't fight for full repeal.
"Rush spoke to people directly who attended the fundraiser in [Florida]," Carson said in an e-mail, "and the Davis Intelligence Group seems to in essence back up the conversation he had with the couple who attended the fundraiser."
It remains unclear which "senators" attended the Florida fundraiser to which Limbaugh referred. Corker's office said he wasn't in Florida for any recent fundraisers, and Carson didn't respond when asked about the identity of the GOP lawmakers.
The saga highlights a dilemma facing Republicans running on a platform of full repeal. Aside from the likely veto of such a measure by Obama, many of the consumer protections contained in the bill are enormously popular. On top of that, a full repeal is estimated to cost roughly $100 billion.
Still, Limbaugh's comments highlight that conservatives aren't ready to accept anything less.
"I had a bunch of people over for a Monday Night Football party, and I couldn't make it," he said of his invitation to the Florida fundraiser.
"But I did talk to a couple people who went. And they tell me full-force that they said after the message, 'If this is what you're thinking, that you can't repeal and that you don't have that much power, and you're not gonna really be able to effect change, then you can kiss 2012 good-bye.
"'Obama and the Democrats are gonna be back in power if that's the way you're gonna approach this.'"