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 CoburnAl Franken: 'I make fun of the people who deserved it' The more complex the tax code, the more the wealthy benefit Congress, stop using our nation's military policy for political purposes 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 Mauze BurrSenate chairman hopes to wrap up Russia investigation this year Lawmakers seek to interview Trump secretary in Russia probe Senate Dem wants closer look at Russia's fake news operation on Facebook 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 McCainBush biographer: Trump has moved the goalpost for civilized society White House to pressure McConnell on ObamaCare McCain: Trump needs to state difference between bigots and those fighting hate MORE (R-Ariz.), Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonCEOs revolt against Trump over Charlottesville GOP senator: Trump hasn't 'changed much' since campaign Senators push for possible FCC enforcement over Lifeline fraud MORE (R-Wis.) and Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP debates tax cuts vs. tax reform Five tough decisions for the GOP on healthcare Lacking White House plan, Senate focuses on infrastructure 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 ClintonCongress needs to assert the war power against a dangerous president House Dems push to censure Trump over Charlottesville response Too many Americans with insurance are being denied coverage 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 RubioScarborough: Trump has chosen the 'wrong side' THE MEMO: Trump reignites race firestorm RNC spokeswoman: GOP stands behind Trump's message 'of love and inclusiveness' MORE (R-Fla.), Rand PaulRand PaulCurtis wins GOP primary for House seat vacated by Jason Chaffetz Glimmer of hope in bipartisan criminal justice reform effort Trump barrage stuns McConnell and his allies MORE (R-Ky.) and Ted CruzTed CruzThe media couldn't be more blatant in distorting Trump's words on Charlottesville Curtis wins GOP primary for House seat vacated by Jason Chaffetz Kimmel: Let’s make Trump a king so he has no power MORE (R-Texas), Reps. Michele BachmannMichele BachmannBachmann: Muslim immigrants trying to undermine Western civilization Religious leaders pray over Trump in Oval Office 'Real Housewives' producer 'begging' Conway to join cast MORE (R-Minn.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Justin AmashJustin AmashThe five kinds of Republicans who could primary Trump Overnight Defense: Military won't lift transgender ban until Trump sends directions | House passes national security spending | Russian sanctions bill heads to Trump Overnight Finance: House passes spending bill with border wall funds | Ryan drops border tax idea | Russia sanctions bill goes to Trump's desk | Dems grill bank regulator picks 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 BoehnerIt's time for McConnell to fight with Trump instead of against him How Republicans can bring order out of the GOP's chaos Republican donor sues GOP for fraud over ObamaCare repeal failure MORE (R-Ohio) nor Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellTrump’s isolation grows Ellison: Trump has 'level of sympathy' for neo-Nazis, white supremacists Trump touts endorsement of second-place finisher in Alabama primary 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.”