Tea party Republicans are girding for a fight with the White House — and members of their own party — over how to block President Obama’s health care law, saying Congress must not miss the chance to use this year’s funding bills to try to starve Obamacare to death.
Speaking at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative nonprofit in Washington, freshman Sen. Ted Cruz called on “hundreds of thousands” or even millions of grass-roots critics of the Affordable Care Act to sign petitions and call their representatives on Capitol Hill before the spending debate in September.
Mr. Cruz, Texas Republican, and several party allies in the Senate — including organizer Mike Lee of Utah, and rising stars Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky — are stoking talk of a government shutdown by vowing to reject any spending plan in September that funds “even one penny of Obamacare.”
“I believe we can win this fight,” Mr. Cruz said.
But their push is running into problems. Even some Republicans who want to end the health care law say holding the rest of government funding hostage is neither politically smart nor doable.
“I want to do it in a way that kills it,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican who released a report Tuesday from the Congressional Research Service that said much of the health care law would continue to operate even if the government is shut down.
CRS said the Obama administration devised contingency plans for the reforms amid prior budget showdowns, and the law’s mandates and reporting requirements to the IRS still would be in place.
Republican leaders in both chambers are still grappling with a strategy. They are caught between a president insistent that his chief domestic priority be protected, and their own troops on the right who say this year’s funding bill offers leverage that they cannot afford to pass up.
Mr. Cruz said the House should pass a bill that funds every facet of the federal government except for the health care law. Then, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, and Mr. Obama will cry foul, he predicted.
“At that point, we’ve got to actually stand up and fight,” Mr. Cruz told bloggers at Heritage, calling on grass-roots conservatives to light up the phones on Capitol Hill. “If we don’t do it now, we very likely never will.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said there have been “a lot of internal discussions” about how to handle the situation, but that no decisions have been made.
“Those discussions continue. I know they’re going on on the House side as well,” he told reporters.
Defunding the health care law was a major push for Republicans when they took control of the House at the beginning of 2011. Indeed, the first long-term spending bill that chamber passed would have blocked the law from taking effect.
But Mr. Obama said he wouldn’t accept a spending bill that cut off funding for the law, and House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, relented. He settled instead for spending cuts elsewhere in the federal government.
Mr. Cruz, Mr. Lee and Mr. Rubio took to the Senate floor Tuesday to make their case for defunding.
Mr. Rubio said if conservatives aren’t willing to draw “a line in the sand” over the health care law now, he’s not sure when they ever will.
Mr. Coburn, though, said his colleagues were taking the wrong approach to erasing Mr. Obama’s signature domestic achievement. Relying on the premises in his report, he said the health care law should be defunded in a more exacting way.
Mr. Cruz acknowledged that a lot of Republicans are resisting the fight, but said he would like to see their alternative “surrender” next year, when government subsidies help Americans without employer-based health insurance seek private coverage and certain states expand their Medicaid rolls.
Once the insurance premium subsidies kick in next year, he said, the prospects for repealing the law “diminish dramatically” because it is difficult to roll back any type of government-funded benefit.
He said the Obama administration acknowledged defeat this month when it decided to delay by one year, to 2015, the employer mandate requiring companies with 50 or more full-time workers to provide health coverage or pay fines.
The Congressional Budget Office on Tuesday said the delay will have little impact on the overall cost of implementing the law over the next 10 years.
From 2014 to 2023, the price tag will rise by $12 billion because of the delay — $10 billion from the loss of anticipated fines that no longer will have to be paid in 2015, and the rest from employees who enter state-based insurance markets and seek government subsidies.