The Hidden Danger for Republicans Lurking in the Budget Deal

Republicans who voted for the landmark budget deal — and even some who didn’t — could face heat for funding Obamacare.

Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., reads from the Bible's book of Proverbs to the media, before a mock swearing-in ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011.
National Journal
Alex Seitz Wald
Add to Briefcase
Alex Seitz-Wald
Jan. 18, 2014, 8:10 a.m.

Con­gress ap­proved its first reg­u­lar spend­ing bill in years this past week, in a move hailed by many as a re­turn to fisc­al san­ity. But there’s a po­ten­tial danger for Re­pub­lic­ans lurk­ing in the depths of the $1.1 tril­lion om­ni­bus ap­pro­pri­ation pack­age that sailed through both houses: Obama­care.

While the GOP man­aged to win some con­ces­sions on the Af­ford­able Care Act, con­ser­vat­ives see the spend­ing bill as “fund­ing Obama­care,” as Red­State wrote. It’s ba­sic­ally the same thing that Ted Cruz and oth­er con­ser­vat­ives blocked a few months ago, for­cing a gov­ern­ment shut­down, and Cruz tried again to rally sup­port for block­ing the spend­ing bill.

Tea-party and con­ser­vat­ive groups railed against the bill, while Her­it­age Ac­tion warned law­makers to vote against the pack­age, say­ing that “by con­tinu­ing to fund im­ple­ment­a­tion of Obama­care, the om­ni­bus bill would con­tin­ue to en­tangle tax­pay­er dol­lars in abor­tion cov­er­age.” The bill passed, of course, thanks in part to the les­son of Oc­to­ber.

But it could still cre­ate prob­lems for Re­pub­lic­ans who face primary chal­lenges from the right — in­clud­ing for some who didn’t even vote for the bill.

Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Jack King­ston is fa­cing a tough Sen­ate primary in Geor­gia, and he will face off Sat­urday night against his op­pon­ents in the first de­bate of the race. He also hap­pens to be the chair­man of the Ap­pro­pri­ations sub­com­mit­tee re­spons­ible for health care fund­ing.

In Decem­ber, he said he would use his post to “do everything we can to try to de­fund [Obama­care] or dis­mantle it,” telling Fox News: “I’m chair­ing the com­mit­tee that ac­tu­ally de­funds Obama­care.” He was so com­mit­ted that oth­er ap­pro­pri­at­ors wor­ried they’d have to work around him to get a bill done.

Of course, the bill that emerged from his sub­com­mit­tee and then passed both cham­bers did not de­fund Obama­care. King­ston voted against the om­ni­bus pack­age (in fact he was the only ap­pro­pri­at­or to do so), but re­tir­ing Demo­crat­ic Sen. Tom Har­kin of Iowa, King­ston’s coun­ter­part in the up­per cham­ber, was not go­ing to let King­ston wipe his hands clean.

On Thursday, Har­kin took to the Sen­ate floor to thank King­ston for his help. “I’m proud to have worked out a fair agree­ment with my rank­ing mem­ber, Sen­at­or Jerry Mor­an from Kan­sas, as well as with my col­leagues on the House side, in­clud­ing Chair­man Jack King­ston,” Har­kin said. “No one got 100 per­cent of what they wanted in this bill, which is of­ten a sign of prob­ably a pretty good deal.” Har­kin went on to praise the fact that the bill in­cludes sev­er­al bil­lion in fund­ing for pro­grams he in­ser­ted in the Af­ford­able Care Act.

The re­tir­ing Demo­crat was “stir­ring the pot ahead of first GOP Sen­ate de­bate,” the Atlanta Journ­al Con­sti­tu­tion‘s Greg Bluestein noted. “Hav­ing any fin­ger­prints on the spend­ing plan may not go over well with ul­tra-con­ser­vat­ives who the can­did­ates are try­ing to win over.”

King­ston, of course, is in a unique po­s­i­tion as chair­man of the com­mit­tee that over­sees health care spend­ing. But if his con­ser­vat­ive primary chal­lengers take the bait to­night, he prob­ably won’t be the last Re­pub­lic­an to face heat for fund­ing Obama­care in the budget.

That might be part of the reas­on why some Re­pub­lic­ans want to forgo a budget en­tirely next time around.

A spokes­man for King­ston’s cam­paign did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

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