Divided GOP Searches for ‘One Voice’ on Obamacare
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The Fiscal Times
March 7, 2014

Are Republicans fumbling their anti-Obamacare message ahead of the midterm elections?

During the first months of the law’s disastrous rollout -- plagued with website problems, cancelled policies and numerous delays -- it seemed as if Obamacare would be an easy target for the GOP.

Related: Editing Obamacare--The GOP Tries a Different Tack

However, now that the majority of the website’s glitches have been resolved and enrollment has increased, the Republicans seem to be at an impasse over how to deal with Obamacare.

“They just can’t seem to come to agreement as to what would put in place as an alternative,” Avik Roy, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute said at a conference in Washington on Wednesday.

Though the GOP agrees that it must offer up an alternative to Obamacare ahead of the elections, it is deeply divided over what that should be. In fact, the law has sparked somewhat of a civil war between the party—split between conservatives who fundamentally oppose any government expansion, and pragmatists who believe Republicans need to offer some reasonable alternatives.

Republican Congresswoman Renee Ellmers suggested that getting the GOP to agree on one Obamacare plan was like “herding cats.”

“We’ve got to come together on a plan, and it may actually end up being multiple bills we vote on,” Ellmers said at a POLITICO Health Care Breakfast Briefing in Washington.

Indeed, while moderate Republicans are scrambling to craft alternatives to the law, far-right conservatives continue calling for its repeal—an option almost every health care expert agrees is unrealistic. Still, House Republicans voted Wednesday for the 50th time to repeal or dismantle the law. And Tea Party darling Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) enthusiastically voiced his support for that idea on Thursday at CPAC. "We need to repeal every single word of Obamacare."

Some policy experts, however, disagree.

“I think that’s preposterous –for conservatives to put all their eggs in that basket is imprudent dynamic going on in Republican circles,” Roy said. 

Related: GOP Strategy on Obamacare: Repair or Repeal

Roy suggested that the divide could be explained by the current make-up of the Congress. About two-thirds of lawmakers were elected to Congress in 2010 or later—meaning they could be “relatively inexperienced in health care policy.”

Others in the Republican Party don’t believe such a divide exists. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) disputed the claim at CPAC on Thursday. "I don't see this great divide in our party," he said. Instead, he said it was simply a "vibrant debate.” He added that conservatives are "energized" while Democrats are "exhausted."

So far, everything Republicans have offered to fix Obamacare has either been strictly symbolic or has failed to gain traction.

One bill that had support from Republican leadership, proposed to change the definition of full-time workers under the law from those logging 30 hours per week to those working 40 hours per week. The bill’s proponents said the law’s current structure would force businesses to cut workers hours rather than provide coverage mandated by Obamacare.

The Congressional Budget Office poured cold water on this proposal, however, when it projected the bill would increase the deficit by about $74 billion over the next decade and cause one million people to lose their work-based insurance.

Related: GOP Obamacare Fix Kicks One Million Off Private Insurance

Still, the GOP hasn’t given up on putting its mark on the health care law. House Majority Eric Cantor said the GOP’s alternative to Obamacare could come as early as this month.

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Washington Correspondent Brianna Ehley, based in D.C., covers Congress, government agencies and spending issues, health care, and tax and economic policy for The Fiscal Times.