Republicans are taking their last stand against Obamacare by threatening to block any spending measures that fund the health care law, a political maneuver that rides slumping support for the reforms but risks attracting blame for a government shutdown after years of budget gridlock on Capitol Hill.
Mindful that Mr. Obama’s overhaul will launch in earnest Oct 1., when state-based health insurance markets begin to enroll uninsured Americans, Republicans who support the budget threat say this is a crucial opportunity to dismantle the law after failing to win a Supreme Court challenge last year or take the White House in November.
“I view this as the last stop before full implementation occurs,” Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who is gathering support from Republican colleagues for the proposal, said Wednesday in an interview.
The Obama administration and its nonprofit allies are promoting the law before its virtual insurance markets open. They hope enough young, healthy people enroll in the so-called exchanges, where the uninsured can find coverage with the help of government subsidies, so premiums do not rise and the law is viewed as a success.
“As we speak, we’re well on our way to fully implementing the Affordable Care Act. We’re going to implement it,” Mr. Obama said Wednesday in a speech on the economy at Knox College in Illinois.
“Despite the politically motivated misinformation campaign, the states that have committed themselves to making this law work are finding that competition and choice are actually pushing costs down,” the president said.
Using the budget process to take down Obamacare is fraught with risk. Neither party wants to be blamed for bringing the U.S. to the fiscal brink after bruising battles over short-term spending plans for the past two years. Some Republicans have rejected the idea.
Conservatives say their principles demand a full-court press after years of protests and tea party fervor against the law, which they see as a job killer that lets government intrude into personal health care.
“The argument I’ve made to my colleagues is that there are some issues that are so fundamental that we have to be willing to go all the way on it,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican. “I think Obamacare is one of them.”
They say momentum is on their side after the White House announced July 2 that it would delay for one year, to 2015, a mandate requiring employers of 50 or more full-time workers to provide health care coverage or pay fines. Also this month, top labor unions who helped Mr. Obama promote the health care law lambasted the president in letters that say the reforms are presenting “nightmare scenarios” for their multi-employer health plans.
“The wheels are coming off this bus, but we’ve got to finish the job now,” Mr. Lee said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, and House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, are staunch opponents of the Affordable Care Act but have not thrown their weight behind Mr. Lee’s proposal.
“The House is passing appropriations bills in regular order and hopes Senate Democrats will begin to the do the same,” a Boehner spokesman said Wednesday. “If they don’t, we’ll look at our options in the fall.”