Republicans backing away from leveraging Obamacare

Even some of Obamacare's fiercest critics on the right have now acknowledged defeat and are dropping the defunding and delaying efforts to concentrate on getting other concessions from Obama in the CR and the debt limit bill.

The writing was on the wall yesterday when Rep. Paul Ryan penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that conceded changing Obamacare was not achievable in the short term and that the GOP should concentrate on passing a short term debt increase and then working to reform entitlements and the tax code.

The number 2 Republican in the House, Eric Cantor, wrote a similar op-ed in the Washington Post. The emerging strategy appears to put pressure on Obama to drop his silly "no negotiation" position and come to the table.


"Obamacare is a component part of a bigger picture," said Rep. Mo Brooks, a conservative Republican from Alabama. "The bigger picture is a growing risk of bankruptcy and insolvency brought about by too many financially irresponsible politicians in Washington."

He added, "Something has to be done. I'm flexible on how we do it with respect to cutting spending to conform our revenues to our taxes. We have to be more aggressive than we have been."

Rep. Tom McClintock, a conservative California Republican, dodged questions on where the party is heading on Obamacare, and instead said it should be decided by a bipartisan negotiating conference.

"The whole nature of negotiations unfolds as it unfolds," McClintock said.


In fact, much of the closed negotiations within House GOP leadership is centering on a temporary lift of the debt ceiling to allow negotiations on tax and entitlement reform. One option that has gained some steam is to allow a four- to eight-week debt ceiling increase to permit negotiations, with another increase contingent upon a budget agreement. With this process moving through the regular channels of Congress, major changes to Obamacare would be next to impossible to achieve.

The pickle on Obamacare is playing out behind closed doors, as well. In a private meeting Wednesday between Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Cantor, Pelosi expressed discontent with having to accept sequester-level spending in a government funding bill. Boehner shot back that it was the "law of the land."

"So is Obamacare," Hoyer responded.

But the bickering among Hill leaders doesn't help resolve the stalemate. Obama says no negotiations will happen until Republicans reopen government and lift the debt ceiling. That, Republicans say, gives up their only leverage.

One idea being looked at seriously is the notion of a short term debt increase followed by a month of intensive negotiations over reforming entitlements, the tax code, and further cuts in discretionary spending.

The strategy is to "flip the field position" - put the onus for deal making on Obama who the public views as being unreasonable for refusing to negotiate. By significant margins, the public wants further cuts in spending as well as tax reform. This is a battle that the GOP can win if they can present a united front in both Houses of Congress.

But that probably isn't going to happen. Dropping the Obamacare defunding and delaying effort will not sit well with many of the Tea Party congressmen who have invested a lot in trying to defund the law. Many in the base will also see any move to leave Obamacare untouched as a betrayal. They are in the minority but they are a loud minority and, depending how big a stink they raise, could derail efforts in the House to re-open the government and raise the debt limit.

But even some GOP activists are admitting defeat. The Koch brothers have sent a letter to the Senate urging them to focus on cutting spending, not Obamacare. And Heritage Action, an influential conservative grass roots activist group, has also pulled its support for the defunding effort.

If some of these ideas coalesce into a geniune proposal over the next few days, it will be President Obama in the unenviable position of being responsible in the eyes of the public for any further impasse. The voters want the two sides to talk and in the end, the president will probably have little choice but to do so.