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 CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Worries grow about political violence as midterms approach President Trump’s war on federal waste American patients face too many hurdles in regard to health-care access 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 BurrGOP's Tillis comes under pressure for taking on Trump Warner says there are 'enormous amounts of evidence' suggesting Russia collusion McCarthy dismisses Democrat's plans: 'Show me where the president did anything to be impeached' 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 Sidney McCainEx-senator challenges Trump to get X-rays proving he had bone spurs during Vietnam draft McSally spoke with Trump, said McCain deserved respect Trump rolls dice on uncertain economy MORE (R-Ariz.), Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonScott Walker considering running for Wisconsin governor or Senate: report GOP moves to rein in president's emergency powers The Hill's 12:30 Report: O'Rourke jumps into 2020 fray MORE (R-Wis.) and Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntRisk-averse Republicans are failing the republic Senate GOP poised to go 'nuclear' on Trump picks The Hill's Morning Report - Dems contemplate big election and court reforms 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 ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonHoward Schultz is holding the Democratic Party hostage Hill-HarrisX poll: 76 percent oppose Trump pardoning former campaign aides A Weld challenge to Trump would provide Republicans a clear choice 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 Antonio RubioRubio's pragmatic thinking on China The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump feuds heat up Rubio to introduce legislation to keep Supreme Court at 9 seats MORE (R-Fla.), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulTransparency advocate says government agencies face 'use it or lose it' spending Republicans need solutions on environment too Trio of NFL players intern on Capitol Hill as part of league program MORE (R-Ky.) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzMichael Bennet 'encouraged' in possible presidential bid: report Biden-Abrams ticket would be a genius media move Families of Kenyan victims seek compensation for Ethiopian Airlines crash MORE (R-Texas), Reps. Michele BachmannMichele Marie BachmannGillibrand becomes latest candidate scrutinized for how she eats on campaign trail Trump will give State of Union to sea of opponents Yes, condemn Roseanne, but ignoring others is true hypocrisy MORE (R-Minn.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Justin AmashJustin AmashProperty is a fundamental right that is now being threatened GOP lawmaker tells party to 'do better' after O'Rourke St. Patrick's Day post The 25 Republicans who defied Trump on emergency declaration 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 Andrew BoehnerBoehner says it's Democrats' turn for a Tea Party movement House Republicans find silver lining in minority Alaskan becomes longest serving Republican in House history MORE (R-Ohio) nor Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump keeps up attacks on 'horrible' McCain, despite calls from GOP, veterans Rock the Vote President says Dem reform bill 'shines a light' on dark money The Hill's Morning Report - Trump's intraparty feuds divide Republicans 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.”