Senate Republicans Fumbling to Find Strategy on Obamacare

FILE - In this July 22, 2013 file photo, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington. A newly approved U.S. aid package of weapons to Syrian rebels may be too little, too late to reverse recent battlefield gains by President Bashar Assad _ and few in Washington are enthusiastic about sending it. But the White House is pushing ahead nonetheless with the arms, which one official described as mostly light weapons, under the belief that doing something is better than doing nothing to help in the two-year Syrian civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people, even if the package is far less than what rebels say they need to turn the tide. 
National Journal
Stacy Kaper and Elahe Izadi
Add to Briefcase
Stacy Kaper Elahe Izadi
Sept. 12, 2013, 3:34 p.m.

If Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers have de­vised a strategy for how to launch their latest as­sault on the Af­ford­able Care Act, it does not ap­pear to have been com­mu­nic­ated to the rank and file, who have yet to co­alesce around a clear plan of at­tack.

Many Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors Thursday agreed the goal was to max­im­ize Re­pub­lic­an lever­age but seemed un­de­cided on wheth­er the cur­rent battle over fund­ing the gov­ern­ment, the up­com­ing fight over rais­ing the debt ceil­ing, or some oth­er vehicle — like the en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency bill on the floor — was the best way to ex­ert that power.

“We are all in fa­vor of all the above,” said Sen. Ron John­son, R-Wis. “Any­thing we can do to pre­vent it from be­ing im­ple­men­ted.”

Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell offered an Obama­care amend­ment to the en­ergy bill un­der Sen­ate con­sid­er­a­tion this week. The meas­ure would delay im­ple­ment­a­tion of the Af­ford­able Care Act’s in­di­vidu­al man­date and co­di­fy the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s one-year delay on em­ploy­er in­sur­ance re­quire­ments. The House passed a one-year in­di­vidu­al-man­date delay earli­er in the sum­mer, but is still wrest­ling with de­fund­ing Obama­care.

“Let’s delay Obama­care man­dates for fam­il­ies right now, just like the White House did for busi­nesses, while there’s still time to do it, and then let’s work to­geth­er, Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans, to re­peal the law for good,” Mc­Con­nell said on the Sen­ate floor Thursday.

But on Thursday, few rank-and-file Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors were even talk­ing about what was hap­pen­ing on the Sen­ate floor. Rather, many were fo­cused on what the House might send over, wheth­er the con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion to fund the gov­ern­ment was the most ap­pro­pri­ate vehicle to ad­dress the health care law, and wheth­er ef­forts to de­fund the law should give way to grow­ing mo­mentum to delay it in­stead.

“All of the dif­fer­ent dead­lines for budget­ing, spend­ing, or rais­ing the debt ceil­ing, should all be used to try to re­form the main prob­lem that we have up here, which is: We spend more money than we have,” said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., ar­gued that Re­pub­lic­ans need to think stra­tegic­ally about how to at­tract Demo­crat­ic sup­port, such as delay­ing the in­di­vidu­al man­date. But he was un­con­vinced that ty­ing a delay meas­ure to a CR was the best route.

“I think we need to look for a strategy that ac­tu­ally could work, that would ac­tu­ally have enough Demo­crats that would vote for it that it could hap­pen,” he said.

Many Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors who made their op­pos­i­tion to Obama­care ex­pli­cit cau­tioned against a gov­ern­ment shut­down, ar­guing it would not stop the health law and could have dire polit­cal rami­fc­a­tions.

“It is a sui­cide note,” said Sen. John Mc­Cain, R-Ar­iz. “I was here the last time we saw this movie.”

Adding to the con­vo­luted mes­sage, Sen­ate Fin­ance Com­mit­tee rank­ing mem­ber Or­rin Hatch, R-Utah, said he is skep­tic­al about the shut­down be­ing ad­voc­ated by some Re­pub­lic­ans. “I want to do things that are doable,” he said. But he said he does “em­path­ize and I may very well vote with them be­cause I be­lieve we ought to get rid of Obama­care. It’s go­ing to be, and it is, a cata­strophe for the coun­try.”

Oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans are aim­ing to at­tach a delay of Obama­care to the up­com­ing debt-ceil­ing de­bate. “What you can do is try to delay and fix it. That’s what I be­lieve our strategy ought to be,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

Des­pite a grow­ing in­terest in delay, the Her­it­age Ac­tion Net­work is still lob­by­ing force­fully for ad­op­tion of the meas­ure from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., to de­fund Obama­care, ar­guing it is the only pro­vi­sion be­ing con­sidered that will de­fang the law.

Among the 14 Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans who are cling­ing to this ap­proach is Sen. James In­hofe of Ok­lahoma, who ad­mits he’s fight­ing a los­ing battle.

“It’s mostly sym­bol­ic,” he said. “We want to have something out there so people con­tin­ue to talk about it…. That’s a way of keep­ing the is­sue alive…. It is something you have to keep do­ing be­cause you have strong be­liefs and even if lo­gic­ally it isn’t go­ing to work out the way you want it, you still try.”

In­deed, neither a delay nor a de­fund­ing stands much chance of be­com­ing law. Sen­ate Demo­crats have said they won’t al­low a delay, and White House press sec­ret­ary Jay Car­ney said Wed­nes­day that the ad­min­is­tra­tion won’t “ac­cept any­thing that delays or de­funds” the health care law.

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