ObamaCare funding battle pits Tea Party against establishment Republicans

The latest fight between Tea Party and establishment Republicans is a familiar one: ObamaCare.

The Tea Party is ready to take a stand on defunding the divisive healthcare law and willing to risk a government shutdown in the process.

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Establishment Republicans worry the strategy will repeat the Clinton-era government shutdown showdown, which hurt Republicans in the 1996 elections.

Tensions will reach a boiling point after the August recess, when lawmakers start negotiations over how to keep the government open.

In the meantime, old-guard Republicans are sending a clear message to conservatives: The shutdown isn’t worth the risk.

On Friday, Sen. Tom CoburnTom Coburn'Path of least resistance' problematic for Congress Freedom Caucus saved Paul Ryan's job: GOP has promises to keep Don't be fooled: Carper and Norton don't fight for DC MORE (R-Okla.) said that a plan to shut down the government to block funds for ObamaCare would cost the GOP control of the House and could destroy the party. 

“The strategy that has been laid out is a good way for Republicans to lose the House,” Coburn told The Washington Examiner.

 “I think it's the dumbest idea I've ever heard,” Sen. Richard BurrRichard BurrOvernight Tech: Uber CEO resigns | Trump's Iowa tech trip | Dems push Sessions to block AT&T-Time Warner deal | Lawmakers warned on threat to election systems | Overnight Cybersecurity: Obama DHS chief defends Russian hack response | Trump huddles on grid security | Lawmakers warned about cyber threat to election systems Lawmakers told of growing cyber threat to election systems MORE (R-N.C.), who was in the House for the 1995 shutdown, told Public Radio International this week.

“Some of these guys need to understand that if you shut down the federal government, you better have a specific reason to do it that's achievable,” he said.

Former National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (R-Okla.) fanned the flames by calling the strategy the “political equivalent of throwing a temper tantrum.”

“It is the sort of thing that could create a backlash that could cost the Republicans the majority in the House … and could materially undercut the ability of the Republicans in the Senate to capture the majority in 2014,” Cole told Fox News.


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Sens. John McCainJohn McCainWhite House launches ObamaCare repeal web page The Hill's 12:30 Report GOP hits the gas on ObamaCare repeal MORE (R-Ariz.), Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonRand Paul calls to slow down 'rushed' ObamaCare repeal process Overnight Cybersecurity: Obama DHS chief defends Russian hack response | Trump huddles on grid security | Lawmakers warned about cyber threat to election systems Overnight Healthcare: Abortion language may be cut from Senate ObamaCare bill | Anthem to leave ObamaCare markets in two states | WH launches repeal website MORE (R-Wis.) and Roy BluntRoy BluntSenate panel readies must-pass aviation bill Week ahead: Senate work on ObamaCare repeal intensifies ObamaCare repeal and the Senate: Where it stands MORE (R-Mo.) have indicated that they oppose the take-no-prisoners approach to the government funding showdown.

Two of the three — McCain and Blunt — were in Congress along with Coburn during the 1995 budget stalemate between former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and then-President Clinton that led the government to shut down for a total of 28 days.

The GOP was widely blamed for the crisis, which created momentum for former President Bill ClintonBill ClintonTrump suggests creating law enacted in 1996 Budowsky: Dems madder than hell Misreading lessons of an evolving electorate MORE's reelection the following year.

On the other side of the debate stands a who's who of Tea Party lawmakers and 2016 GOP presidential hopefuls: Sens. Marco RubioMarco RubioIvanka Trump turns to House GOP on paid family leave Ivanka Trump weighs in on awkward hug with Rubio: ‘Fake news’ Rubio, Ivanka Trump joke about their 'alleged failed hug' MORE (R-Fla.), Rand PaulRand PaulFive things to watch in Senate GOP’s ObamaCare repeal bill McConnell courts GOP centrists for health bill Rand Paul calls to slow down 'rushed' ObamaCare repeal process MORE (R-Ky.) and Ted CruzTed CruzMcConnell courts GOP centrists for health bill Bono signs card for Scalise during Capitol Hill visit GOP hits the gas on ObamaCare repeal MORE (R-Texas), Reps. Michele BachmannMichele Bachmann'Real Housewives' producer 'begging' Conway to join cast Ex-rep admires furs amid PETA inaugural gala Why Republicans took aim at an ethics watchdog MORE (R-Minn.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Justin AmashJustin AmashRepublicans slam Trump’s new policy toward Cuba Kids shouldn't be charged as sex offenders Dem: Disrespect for rule of law by Trump administration 'off the charts' MORE (R-Mich.) and many others.

Tensions between the John McCains and the Rand Pauls of the GOP have flared over the last three years as establishment Republicans vie for power with the Tea Party insurgency.

But keeping the government open could prove the biggest battle yet, since the current funding bill expires just as ObamaCare's major provisions are scheduled to take effect.

The law's new insurance exchanges open for enrollment on Oct. 1 and coverage kicks in Jan. 1, along with the individual mandate to carry healthcare coverage.

Given the timing, Rubio and his peers say the stakes couldn't be higher.

“If this issue isn't important enough for us to draw a line in the sand on, what issue is?” the Florida Republican said on the Senate floor Thursday.

Rubio's impassioned speech came as he seeks to repair his reputation with the Tea Party after helping to shepherd a controversial immigration overhaul through the Senate.

That bill has been widely criticized by conservatives, and Rubio needs their blessing if he's going to win a 2016 GOP presidential primary.

Lucky for him, conservative media and pressure groups are expressing strong support for the shutdown threat.

This week, talk show host Mark Levin called Burr a “jerk” and a “buffoon” for criticizing the threat, while influential conservative site RedState urged readers to pressure Burr, Blunt and others to defund ObamaCare at any cost.

Conservative advocacy group Heritage Action also vowed to shine a spotlight on any GOP member that doesn't support the movement.

Neither Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerJuan Williams: GOP fumbles on healthcare The Hill's 12:30 Report The new dealmaking in Congress reveals an old truth: majority wins MORE (R-Ohio) nor Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellSpecial election sweep boosts Trump agenda Five things to watch in Senate GOP’s ObamaCare repeal bill McConnell courts GOP centrists for health bill MORE (R-Ky.) have embraced the shutdown threat, which has more than 60 supporters in the House and 12 in the Senate.

And, facing a primary challenge, the Senate's top Republican is in an especially tough spot.

The conservative Club for Growth is pushing him to filibuster any government-funding bill that includes money for the healthcare law. The group has also said it's open to endorsing McConnell's GOP opponent.

Club for Growth President Chris Chocola urged Republicans to welcome the expiring government funding bill as a “moment of leverage.”

“It's the stated position of essentially every Republican that they want to defund ObamaCare … so this is about them simply doing what they say they're for,” he said.

“It's important that McConnell understand it's a matter of accountability,” Chocola added.

Republican strategist Ford O'Connell had more pity for the Kentucky Republican, whose office responded to a request for comment with a memo criticizing the White House for its desire to increase spending.

“Conservatives are going to have to swallow a bitter pill,” O'Connell said.

“We've seen this play before — the government gets shut down and the GOP is seen as the villain. That's not good with 2014 on the horizon.

“Just imagine you're Mitch McConnell,” he added. “You're really going to have to walk a tightrope on this.”