- The Washington Times - Monday, August 19, 2013

A top conservative group on Monday launched a nationwide tour and a half-million-dollar ad campaign to whip up support for defunding Obamacare as a prerequisite for a deal on federal spending next month, a last-ditch effort to roll back the health care law before its principal features take effect.

Heritage Action insists that voters could “make all the difference” by airing their grievances at the town-hall meetings, which were scheduled to begin late Monday in Fayetteville, Ark., and cover nine cities in 11 days.

“The need to defund Obamacare is resonating,” Heritage spokesman Dan Holler said Monday.

Conservative Republicans such as Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida warn that if Obamacare isn’t defunded now, it will become too entrenched to ever repeal.

Yet they and their allies face a tall order. They must build momentum against a chorus of senior Republicans who say that while dismantling the Affordable Care Act is a priority, it does not warrant politically damaging threats to shut down the government when Congress reconvenes Sept. 9 and works on a deal to fund federal operations past Sept. 30.

Republican leadership has not cozied up to the defunding plan, even though Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican and a key organizer of the effort in the Senate, and other conservatives say it’s now or never if the party wants to dismantle the health care law.

Heritage Action is betting that a groundswell of popular support in lawmakers’ home districts will force House Republicans to act when they return to Capitol Hill. The parties’ desire to strike a deal, they say, will pressure the Democrat-controlled Senate to scale back its support for President Obama’s signature domestic achievement.

Heritage hopes to catalyze support of its position with a $550,000 online advertising campaign in the home districts of 100 House Republicans who have not signed a letter that calls on Congress to defund the law.

They also say momentum is on their side.

The Obama administration has been forced to delay an insurance mandate on employers and a cap on out-of-pocket expenses. In addition, audits suggest that federal officials are lagging in efforts to implement state-based health care exchanges, where Americans without employer-based insurance can buy coverage with the help of government subsidies, by Oct. 1.

Given these lapses and an opportunity to stop Obamacare spending before it begins in earnest, conservatives are touting town halls that will be hosted by Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint, a former Republican senator from South Carolina, and Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham.

After Arkansas, the tour will sweep through Dallas; Tampa, Fla.; Nashville, Tenn.; Birmingham, Ala.; Indianapolis; Columbus, Ohio; and Pittsburgh before wrapping up Aug. 29 in Wilmington, Del.

The first six town halls are “filled to capacity” and are no longer accepting registrations, according to the Heritage Action website.

Mr. Cruz’s father, Rafael Cruz, will be a constant on the tour, although the senator is scheduled to attend only the Dallas event.

Rep. Tom Cotton, a freshman Arkansas Republican who recently announced a challenge next year to Sen. Mark L. Pryor, a Democrat, was not scheduled to attend the event in Fayetteville, said campaign spokeswoman Caroline Rabbitt.

But a coalition of health care reform advocates said it intends to show up at Mr. DeMint’s “dog and pony repeal show” as much as possible.

“What you won’t hear from these extreme partisans is that if they had their way, thousands of young adults in [Arkansas] and across the country would be forced off their parents’ plans, parents of children born with pre-existing conditions would once again worry about reaching a lifetime cap or getting any coverage at all, and seniors would be left paying thousands more for their prescription drugs,” the coalition said in a statement from Americans United for Change.

Mr. Obama also has amped up his defense of the health care law by saying Republicans are “sticking it” to the American people, even if they think their staunch opposition to the law is only hurting his administration.

It is unclear whether Heritage’s efforts will boost the defunding campaign — or whether it’s decelerating already.

Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican and key supporter of the defunding effort in the Senate, said Sunday that he does not think shutting down the government “is a good idea.” Some observers characterized his comments to “Fox News Sunday” as a sign that he is cooling down his support for the defunding effort, while others focused on tougher rhetoric in the interview.

“Sen. Paul is exactly right that conservatives should be willing to stand up and fight and use the leverage of controlling the House,” Mr. Holler said.

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