By Erik Wasson and Elise Viebeck - 08/16/13 10:00 AM EDT
House conservatives say grassroots support is building for their effort to risk a government shutdown to defund ObamaCare.
Conservatives who back the strategy said their spines have been stiffened by support at town-hall meetings.
He also said the federal government’s move this month to subsidize health insurance for lawmakers and staff required to enter ObamaCare’s exchanges is acting as an “accelerant” and “driving people into a froth” about shutting the government down over ObamaCare funding.
“I'm hearing a lot of anger that is right beneath the surface, ready to erupt,” Burgess said. At one town hall, Burgess said support for the defunding threat was "virtually unanimous" when he asked for a show of hands.
Republicans opposed to the effort believe President Obama and Senate Democrats will never agree to a bill that funds the government, but not the healthcare law. They warn their party would walk into a trap by adopting the strategy, and that Republicans will be blamed for a shutdown.
But even some of these Republicans acknowledge their constituents are telling them to go all out in defunding ObamaCare.
“I’m getting quite a bit about having a shutdown over ObamaCare. I disagree with that,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla), who described his town halls as “challenging.”
GOP leaders have not said whether they would cut funding for ObamaCare as part of a continuing resolution to keep the government operating. Without a new government funding bill, a shutdown will occur on Oct. 1.
Congress will have only nine legislative days to act when lawmakers return from recess before the fiscal year runs out on Sept. 30.
Since there is no expectation that 12 annual appropriations bills will be passed by then, a stopgap funding measure is likely.
Stutzman said the goal is not to shut down the government, but that the House version of a continuing resolution (CR) should at least contain the defunding provision.
Battle lines within the GOP over the strategy have been evident for weeks.
Before the recess began, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) gathered 66 GOP signatures on a letter urging GOP leaders to demand that ObamaCare be defunded in the context of any 2014 funding bill.
Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) wants to go even further. His resolution demands that language defunding ObamaCare be attached to any continuing resolution to fund the government. On Wednesday, his office sent an email to other members seeking support.
Conservative groups, such as Heritage Action and Freedomworks, have mobilized activists to press members to support the defunding effort.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), who lost his committee assignments for bucking GOP leaders, argues that anyone in leadership who thinks the shutdown push is losing momentum is misinformed.
“They like to encircle themselves with people who tend to agree with them,” Huelskamp said of GOP leaders.
“If they allow the vote, I can’t imagine any Republican before the primary season not voting to defund ObamaCare,” he said.
Several other Republicans contacted by The Hill said they’ve heard from constituents demanding that they push to defund ObamaCare.
Rep. Tom McClintock’s (R-Calif.) office, for example, confirmed Thursday that he has now made it clear to constituents that he won’t vote for any temporary funding bill that does not defund ObamaCare.
But not all members are embracing the idea despite heated rhetoric back home.
Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) said at his town-hall meeting he “made it abundantly clear that I am adamantly opposed to the Affordable Care Act … but I am not one who believes in shutting the government down.”
Womack said that he has told constituents that allowing the law to take effect could demonstrate its unpopularity and could help shift the Senate into GOP hands, making way for an eventual repeal.
Cole, whose district relies on military funding, said he shares the goal of ending ObamaCare, but he argues a shutdown would backfire. And he said there is plenty of opposition in GOP circles to the idea. For example, he said local Chamber of Commerce members are more opposed to a shutdown strategy than some town-hall participants.
One veteran lawmaker who has held several town-hall meetings said GOP leaders haven’t handled the fight well over defunding ObamaCare.
Instead of saying no decisions had been made, he said GOP leaders should have sought to squash the effort.
They “haven't had one of them, in a visible way, who's taken a stand and said, 'This is stupid,'” the lawmaker said.