By Elise Viebeck - 08/17/13 04:00 PM EDT
Many Republicans who are eyeing a run for president in 2016 are backing an all-or-nothing plan to defund ObamaCare.
More than half a dozen possible GOP White House candidates support that strategy while a handful are calling for a more nuanced approach to defunding or repealing the healthcare law. Another five are dodging questions and a couple others are not signaling one way or another.
[A detailed breakdown is outlined in the chart below.]
Still, the results of The Hill’s survey favors the shutdown-showdown strategy hatched by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), thanks to outspoken endorsements from GOP frontrunners, such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
The Florida Republican and three other colleagues also entertaining presidential runs — Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) — have backed Lee’s effort by refusing to support government funding bills that include money for ObamaCare.
The effort places immense pressure on GOP leaders and could result in a government shutdown if it prevents Congress from agreeing on a continuing resolution by Sept. 30.
Several top national Republicans have either been silent or agnostic on the threat, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
But the movement has gained support from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), who are pushing Congress toward a last-ditch effort to kill ObamaCare.
“Shutting down ObamaCare is essential for the economy, for quality healthcare and for our freedom,” said Jindal press secretary Sean Lansing in a statement. “We are for using any and every tool to do that.”
Those arguments are likely to continue as the presidential field takes shape over the next couple of years.
The conservative base is vehemently opposed to the healthcare law and will stop at nothing to ensure its funding is rescinded.
Some members of the expected GOP field are not voicing dramatic calls for action, however.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.) have expressed reservations about the shutdown threat and backed more conventional paths to ending healthcare reform, like traditional repeal.
Walker, a Tea Party favorite, told The New York Times this month that he has “real concerns” about a shutdown harming the economy.
Also sharing concerns are Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), who recently said he’s serious about a presidential run next cycle.
In an interview, King criticized Lee and his supporters for “basically holding a gun to the head of the administration.”
“I am totally opposed to ObamaCare, but the fact is, it passed both houses [of Congress] and was signed into law and the president was reelected,” King said. “I think this [strategy] is wrong governmentally, wrong philosophically and bad politically. People will see it for what it is — a shakedown tactic.
“We should continue to try to repeal ObamaCare but we should do it by the proper procedure,” King said.
Some politicians would not directly answer questions about a government shutdown as it relates to ObamaCare.
For example, Sen. Rob Portman’s spokeswoman noted that the Ohio Republican is a cosponsor of Cruz’s bill to defund ObamaCare. But the statement adds, “As we approach the debate over the continuing resolution in the Senate, Sen. Portman is looking at a variety of ways to get our budget in order and rein in spending so as not to place an unfair burden on future generations.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s spokeswoman did not mention a shutdown threat in her statement to The Hill: “ObamaCare is a deeply flawed, unsustainable and misguided government takeover of our healthcare system that will bankrupt the states and the federal government. As we continue to see the implementation of aspects of ObamaCare delayed, it is clear this bill is not the answer to our healthcare challenges.”
Meanwhile, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez’s office pointed to her State of the State address in January. At that time, Martinez stressed she didn’t support ObamaCare though added, “…it’s the law of the land. The election is over and the Supreme Court has ruled. My job is not to play party politics, but to implement this law in a way that best serves New Mexico.”
The divisions within the Republican Party surrounding the shutdown threat highlight the political pressures facing the nascent GOP presidential field. They also pose a major problem for Republican leaders on Capitol Hill.
Rubio endorsed Lee’s proposal after he alienated conservative voters by shepherding an immigration bill through the Senate.
Cruz has emerged as a lead spokesman for the movement, adding to his visibility and strengthening his ties with conservative pressure groups, such as Heritage Action and FreedomWorks.
Paul took a step back Wednesday when he said he opposes a government shutdown.
“I am in favor of using our leverage to make it less bad,” he told reporters in Louisville. “I also know that we don’t control all of the government, so we fight for what we can get.”
Those comments drew attention given Paul’s ties to Senate Minority Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is facing pressure from his conservative primary opponent to support the shutdown threat.
Paul has endorsed McConnell, who made headlines Tuesday when he said, “I’m for stopping ObamaCare, but shutting down the government will not stop ObamaCare.”
“Most of it is permanent law and not affected by that,” McConnell told a group of healthcare workers, according to WYMT-TV. “It also wouldn’t stop the taxes. Taxes that are going in on medical devices, taxes that are going in on health insurance premiums.”
The comments drew immediate fire from McConnell’s GOP challenger, Matt Bevin, and the conservative blogosphere, which interpreted them as a position against the shutdown threat.
McConnell’s office clarified that he was simply making a statement of fact, not taking sides in the fight.
The debate is expected to get more volatile in the coming weeks. Heritage Action is planning events in nine cities before the end of August to drum up grassroots support for the Lee plan.
“There is nobody who denies this will require courage,” Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham said Wednesday on a call with reporters.
“Maybe [Congress’s] approval rating is at 12 percent because they haven’t tried to inspire people.”
KILL OBAMACARE FUNDING AT ANY COST (7)
Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas)
Gov. Bobby Jindal (La.)
Rep. Steve King (Iowa)
Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.)
Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.)
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.)
Sen. John Thune (S.D.)
PURSUE ANOTHER APPROACH (DELAY, TRADITIONAL REPEAL) (5)
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.)
Gov. Susana Martinez (N.M.)
Rep. Pete King (N.Y.)
Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.)
Gov. Scott Walker (Wis.)
Gov. Rick Perry (Texas)
Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio)
DID NOT RESPOND TO CALLS, EMAILS (4)
Former Gov. Jeb Bush (Fla.)
Gov. Chris Christie (N.J.)
Gov. Nikki Haley (S.C.)
Gov. John Kasich (Ohio)