Effort to defund ObamaCare tries to regain its momentum this week

Conservatives will take their defund-ObamaCare push back to Washington, D.C., this week with an event to rally support and combat a wide shift in focus away from the issue.

Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and a slew of House members and Tea Party leaders will host a rally Tuesday to pressure leaders not to pay for healthcare reform in the next bill to fund the government.

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The anti-funding movement, which dominated headlines at the beginning of the summer, has not gained enough support to assure victory as Congress enters a series of fiscal negotiations over the next two months.

To the contrary, Republican congressional leaders remain non-committal and chatter in Washington has been consumed for the last week with the debate over whether the U.S. military should intervene in Syria's civil war.

Tea Party supporters also face a tough break with the scheduling of their rally, the most prominent in a series of August events across the country highlighting criticisms of ObamaCare.

President Obama said Friday that he will make the case for military strikes in a public address on Tuesday, the same day backers of defunding ObamaCare are set to convene on the Capitol building's West Lawn.

Obama will also not have to encounter face-to-face criticism of ObamaCare from union interests after canceling a trip to Los Angeles.

Anti-ObamaCare activists remain hopeful that they can build enough pressure on Republican leaders to deal a major blow to ObamaCare in any bills to fund the government.

But others expressed skepticism that the movement can achieve its goals amid votes in Congress over Syria and intensifying pressure not to allow a government shutdown.

Pro-ObamaCare groups mocked the campaign in a press call Friday, telling reporters that Tea Party “lost August.”

“Progressive groups and activists across the country have been on the offensive,” said Brad Woodhouse, President of Americans United for Change.

“We're out there aggressively promoting the benefits of ObamaCare.”

Confidence from the left comes as some Republicans communicate equally tough messages from constituents urging them to do whatever it takes to kill healthcare reform.

A wide group of Republican members observed strong grassroots support for the defunding movement at town hall events throughout August, they have told The Hill.

Some conservative leaders and groups have also created a litmus test out of members' support or wariness of the campaign. Pundits and talk radio hosts have turned on GOP lawmakers who are wary of threats to shut down the government unless ObamaCare is defunded.

These criticisms are echoed by a long list of conservative advocacy groups, one of which is running ads against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for failing to back the movement.

“McConnell’s the Senate Republican leader, but he refuses to lead on defunding ObamaCare,” says a television ad from the Senate Conservatives Fund. “What good is a leader like that?”

Representatives from more than 10 Tea Party-affiliated groups will speak at Tuesday's rally along with conservative movement figures like Herman Cain.

The event is expected to draw participants from nearby states. As of Friday, the Tea Party Patriots were booking registrations on buses from about 30 towns across the Midwest and the South.

Groups that support the defunding push argue that it is the best — and perhaps last —way to thwart healthcare reform before its biggest provisions take root.

The new insurance exchanges are scheduled to open for enrollment on Oct. 1, the same day government funding would run out under the current continuing resolution. The law's other major provisions will take effect in January.

But supporters of the law have also been invigorated in recent weeks.

A survey released Aug. 28 by the Kaiser Family Foundation found a majority opposes defunding ObamaCare as a way to stop implementation, and several recent studies have predicted that premiums on the new exchanges will be lower than expected, or will not rise overall.

In an interview, Lee's spokesman called these findings misleading and challenged the idea that the defunding push has lost momentum.

Brian Phillips argued that the intensifying debate over Syria will hurt Obama's efforts to promote the healthcare law because he and his deputies will have less time to oppose conservative criticisms.

“My understanding is that the administration had planned a big pushback on the defund effort for September,” Phillips said. “I don't see how they can do that now when they're debating whether to send our troops into harm's way.”

Whatever the outcome, House Republican leaders indicated again Friday that they have not jumped on the defunders’ bandwagon.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) outlined the September and October legislative agenda in a memo that stressed an incremental approach to undoing the healthcare law.

“As the Speaker outlined in July, the House will hold a series of strategic votes throughout the fall to dismantle, defund, and delay ObamaCare,” Cantor wrote.

“The coalition supporting ObamaCare cracks when forced to vote on the most unpopular aspects of the law,” he said.