House GOP backing off Obamacare defunding demand in CR

Despite - or maybe because of - the Ted Cruz 21 hour talkathon, the National Journal is reporting that House Republicans have conceded defeat on connecting a defunding measure to the CR, choosing instead to hold the debt ceiling vote hostage by including a one year delay in implementing the individual mandate:

In a private conference call Tuesday night, talk among conservatives centered on using the funding bill to "chip away" at Obamacare rather than defund it entirely, according to one senior GOP aide familiar with the conversation. "People were very cautious," the aide said, noting the change in tone and language. "There was not an enormous amount of fight from members."

Indeed, according to several lawmakers and GOP aides familiar with House Republicans' recent strategy sessions, lawmakers have abruptly shifted from swinging for the fences to playing small ball - dropping demands that the bill defund the program and instead calling for conservative policy riders to be pasted onto the Senate CR.

"We're closer to the deadline, so folks start thinking differently as our options narrow," explained Rep. Erik Paulsen of Minnesota.

Boehner will outline those remaining options on Thursday morning, when House Republicans gather to discuss how they'll respond when the Senate, as expected, returns the spending bill to the House with Obamacare funding intact.

One lawmaker described Boehner's approach as a "one-two punch" to defeat the Affordable Care Act.

According to GOP lawmakers and aides, it involves adding a package of conservative policy provisions to the continuing resolution the Senate approves. The two likeliest provisions are measures that repeal the medical device tax (which enjoys some bipartisan support and would represent a substantive blow to the law itself) and ban subsidies under the health law for federal lawmakers and their staff members (which lawmakers think would earn media attention but amount to little more than a symbolic political victory.)

While a small group of conservatives wants to send back to the Senate a new CR that delays Obamacare for a year, lawmakers know there's no time for that if they want to avoid a shutdown. Notably, there seems to be no discussion of re-inserting the original language to defund Obamacare and sending back to the Senate the same CR it will have just rejected - an approach some House Republicans were agitating for as recently as last week.

The second step in Boehner's plan involves the debt-ceiling - specifically, Republicans demanding a one-year delay in the implementation of Obamacare in exchange for extending the nation's borrowing limit before the Treasury Department runs out of money to pay the country's bills on Oct. 17.

The debt ceiling vote has a slightly better chance of succeeding, if only because by the middle of October, Democratic Senators may be getting an earful from their constitutents about Obamacare's faults.

But it's still a long shot given Obama's opposition to any delay.

As far as the House GOP is concerned, some will no doubt think the refusal to send a CR back to the Senate with Obamacare defunding as a cave in. Others will see the move as an acknowledgment of reality. We'll see how stout the GOP caucus is when the debt ceiling debate begins.