By Elise Viebeck and Molly K. Hooper - 07/31/13 01:06 AM EDT
The Republican civil war on ObamaCare funding is intensifying.
The battle pits powerful rank-and-file freshmen such as Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) against veteran Washington players, including Karl Rove, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).
Many in the Tea Party are urging GOP leaders not to pass any government funding measure that pays for the implementation of ObamaCare. The White House and congressional Democrats have long scoffed at such requests.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have been non-committal on their strategy. However, they have previously signed off on deals that funded ObamaCare implementation.
The issue is particularly sensitive for McConnell, who is facing a primary challenge.
Congress has about 60 days to pass a bill that keeps the government running. But with the August recess looming, there will only be about a dozen or so legislative days to deal with this issue before the end of the fiscal year, on Sept. 30.
The GOP brinkmanship strategy has drawn strong opposition from establishment players, such as McCain, who recently said “most Americans are really tired of those kinds of shenanigans here in Washington.”
|Republicans backing ObamaCare defunding strategy|
•Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas)
•Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.)
•Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.)
•Tea Party Patriots National Coordinator Jenny Beth Martin
•RedState editor Erick Erickson
•Conservative talk show host Mark Levin
|Republicans against ObamaCare defunding strategy|
•Sen. John McCain (Ariz.)
•Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.)
•Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.)
•Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.)
•GOP strategist Karl Rove
•Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer
In the other corner, talk show radio hosts and right-leaning groups — including Mark Levin, the Club for Growth and Heritage Action — say the GOP must show backbone.
They have previously called for ObamaCare funding to be stripped, but the movement has attracted momentum this summer amid implementation stumbles and the IRS targeting scandal. The tax agency will be playing a major role in enforcing key aspects of the Affordable Care Act.
For now, all eyes are on GOP leaders for a hint of where they stand.
McConnell has reportedly pressured Republican senators to back away from the shutdown plan, conceived by Lee.
But at a Tuesday press conference, hours after Cruz swore to mobilize a “grassroots army” behind Lee’s strategy, the minority leader kept his poker face.
“We’ve had a lot of discussions about the way forward this fall,” McConnell told reporters. “Those discussions continue. … There’s no particular announcement at this point.”
The convergence of Obama-Care’s implementation with negotiations to fund the government creates a formidable challenge for GOP leaders. Party bosses like Boehner and McConnell must consider Republicans’ standing with the public while not upsetting the GOP base.
McConnell this spring voted for Cruz’s amendment to defund ObamaCare, but has been very wary of making threats to shutter the government.
In March, Boehner said he would not use the government funding fight to force a shutdown.
Asked if he would follow Cruz’s plan, Boehner said his “goal” was to cut spending, “not to shut down the government.”
Following the president’s reelection triumph, the Speaker said ObamaCare is the “law of the land.” He subsequently committed to a vote to repeal the law.
In an interview Monday on Fox News, Rove called the shutdown strategy a “political loser.”
“Being conservative doesn’t mean you do something that’s going to blow up in your face,” Rove told host Bill O’Reilly.
Right-leaning columnists Charles Krauthammer and Ramesh Ponnuru have also questioned the wisdom of Lee’s approach.
Other groups appear to be caught in the middle.
Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) President Grover Norquist signed a letter with other top conservative leaders pressing Boehner to hold a vote on a government-funding bill without money for ObamaCare.
The letter, circulated by Heritage Action, stated that the vote “will give the president and Senate Democrats a choice: Continue funding the government, or shut down the government on behalf of an unpopular law.”
An ATR official later clarified that Norquist’s group does not support Lee’s brinkmanship, nor did it mean to communicate a shutdown threat.
If conservatives succeed in rallying support for their plan, Boehner and his deputies could still shepherd through a government-funding bill opposed by a majority of their own conference. Such a move would spark outcry from the conservative rank and file.
In the Senate, Republicans have the votes to filibuster any spending bill if they are unified. But on this issue, they aren’t.
Democrats, meanwhile, are enjoying how this ObamaCare debate is dividing the GOP.
The August recess will usher in a period of relative calm in Washington as lawmakers test the waters in their districts. Members will return to a complicated fight in September, encompassing the whole federal budget, not just healthcare reform.
But proponents of the shutdown threat say momentum will only build as legislators touch base with constituents back home.
“Far too many lawmakers are approaching the defund strategy based on Washington’s misguided conventional wisdom,” said Dan Holler, communications director at Heritage Action.
“When they return to Washington after spending five weeks back home, I suspect they’ll have come to realize there is widespread support outside Washington to defund ObamaCare.”
Most of the members insisting on defunding ObamaCare in the continuing resolution were not in Congress in 1995 and 1996 when the government shut down amid a stalemate between a GOP Congress and then-President Clinton.
At a Heritage Foundation briefing on Tuesday, Cruz said, “The entirety of this strategy relies on the grassroots.”
He compared the fight to conservatives’ victory in stopping Obama’s push for stricter gun laws after the Newtown, Conn., shooting.
The campaign for gun control “seemed like it was unstoppable,” Cruz said. “What happened in that fight was that a handful of senators were able to slow things down and shine a light on it.”