- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 24, 2013

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.

Senate Democrats and the White House undoubtedly will dismiss the move as part of a long series of failed efforts to erase the president’s top domestic achievement.

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.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Nevada Democrat “agrees with Sen. Lee’s Republican colleagues who have dismissed this idea out of hand as unnecessary brinkmanship.”

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.”

Mr. Lee said roughly a dozen colleagues have signed on to a letter addressed to Mr. Reid that lays out his proposal to reject any appropriations bills or continuing resolutions that contain funds for the health care law.

“If the administration will not enforce the law as written, then the American people should not be forced to fund it,” the letter says.

The Club for Growth, a conservative political action committee, called on Mr. McConnell on Wednesday to sign the letter and “encourage others to sign on.”

A spokesman for Mr. McConnell referred questions about the minority leader’s comments Tuesday in which he said only that the party is discussing options internally and is focused on cutting $2 trillion over 10 years in line with a 2011 deal to reduce spending.

It’s unclear whether conservatives will garner enough support for Mr. Lee’s measures to mount a filibuster threat in the Democrat-controlled Senate, but the senator from Utah pointed to three rising stars in the Republican Party — Mr. Rubio, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Rand Paul of Kentucky — as key allies in his effort.

But the concept could be a tough sell within the party.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said he fully supports defunding and replacing the health care law, but would not tie it to the spending resolutions that fund all government operations because it would put other priorities at stake.

“We’ve got a military under stress, and you’re talking about a construct where they wouldn’t get paid,” he said. “The Iranians would support that idea. I don’t.”

Mr. Rubio said Democrats would take the heat if the dispute brings Washington’s fiscal house to the brink.

“The way I see it is President Obama and his allies are willing to shut down they federal government unless Obamacare is funded,” he said. “I just don’t think Obamacare is more important than America.”