Several GOP congressmen are openly rebelling against their hardline colleagues—whose insistence on gutting Obamacare has led to the first government shutdown in 17 years.
Going into the third day of the shutdown, the criticisms of this tactic by this group of GOP pragmatists has become louder, offering the first sign of hope that the government might reopen.
The fissure inside the Republican Party has become undeniable, even as House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) continues to side with the Tea Partiers who have demanded that the 2010 Affordable Care Act be derailed. Moderates including Rep. Peter King (R-NY) and Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) are pressuring Boehner to ditch the dozens of Tea Party types who have controlled the caucus in recent weeks – but for now that seems unlikely given Boehner’s unyielding statement after leaving a meeting with Obama and Democratic congressional leaders at the White House late Wednesday.
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King said he and his allies favor passing a “clean” continuing resolution, with no excess partisan baggage, to reopen the government. The New York congressmen plans to pull off this coup by using the same blustery rhetoric as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who helped encourage dozens of House Republicans to make Obamacare the crucible for funding the government.
“One thing I admire about the Ted Cruz Republicans is that they don’t care what anybody thinks about them, they just go ahead and do it,” King said. “I think that’s what we have to start doing. So that’s what I’m doing, anyway.”
President Obama understandably refuses to surrender his signature health insurance program for a spending bill that would only fund the government through Dec. 15. His White House meeting with congressional leaders on Wednesday largely proved futile.
“He reiterated that he will not negotiate,” Boehner said after the 90-minute meeting. “But at some point we’ve got to allow the process that our founders gave us to work out.”
The Speaker insisted that the president had to relent and allow for some changes in the Affordable Care act that would insure “fairness” to all Americans. But after the meeting, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said of the Democrats’ position: “We are locked in tight on Obamacare.”
Across Pennsylvania Avenue inside Congressman King’s office on Wednesday, a group of ten or so Republican lawmakers huddled to map out a strategy for bringing an end to the crisis. Another bunch vented to Boehner about the blow to the GOP brand, as polling suggests that voters largely blame them for the shutdown.
As of yesterday, at least 18 Republicans have publicly stated that they would vote for a clean CR, according to the Roll Call newspaper. This largely includes mid-Atlantic GOPers whose states voted to reelect Obama last year.
Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) is pushing Boehner and other lawmakers for a more comprehensive deal that would bring the crisis to an end.
“I would like to see the debt ceiling, CR, sequestration all wrapped into one [package], and sit down and work on a final number,” he told reporters.
Grimm added that his party doesn’t have much time to turn things around, since the shutdown is fast merging with a potential default when the government exhausts its borrowing authority on Oct. 17.
“I’m trying to be optimistic. But at the same time, I have a really, really tough time with people [in government] who are out of work and they can’t pay their bills, and our veterans can’t go to our monuments,” Grimm said. “It’s poor policy, it’s not healthy for our party. And that’s why I’m one of those that says, even though it may be a political loss for us, I would vote for a clean CR.”
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More and more Republicans are blasting their leadership for upping the ante in a poker game where the deck is stacked against them. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) has moved into the public spotlight, calling the Tea Partiers a “lemming crew” who were “playing with no cards in their hand – but they don’t know that yet.”
“Normally, I don’t talk to the press,” Nunes explained, “so I wanted to talk to the press because I wanted my constituents to know that this was not a winning strategy and that most likely at the end of this there was no magical way to get rid of Obamacare, using this strategy.”
Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), a veteran lawmaker who is well connected to Boehner and the other leaders, said that his vote on the CR doesn’t hinge on delaying the Obamacare mandate to have health insurance coverage. It requires election victories—rather than political standoffs to overturn Obamacare.
“If we can stop it, great,” Cole said. “But that requires winning control of the United States Senate and a different president.”
Tea Party freshman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) helped lead the effort over this summer to deny funding for Obamacare through routine spending bills by circulating a letter signed by 79 of his colleagues.
But asked yesterday whether a measure defunding or derailing Obamacare was essential to a final deal, Meadows refused to answer.
“For me to speculate on that is to try to negotiate with myself from the Senate side,” he said. “Let them send us something back. I’m a negotiator. I’ve made a living all my life finding common ground. But it takes them to be able to send something back to us before you can ever find that.”