Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss say they’re all for stopping the law, just not shutting down most of the federal government to do it. And that’s the source of the rift with key groups that have provided the Republican Party with much of its energy in recent election cycles but now find themselves at odds with powerful Republican figures on Capitol Hill.
A few dozen of the activists, including leaders of multiple national organizations, gathered at the Georgia Capitol on Tuesday and accused Isakson and Chambliss of trying to have it both ways on the law, which Republicans have labeled Obamacare.
“You’ve said yourself this fight is worth having,” Tea Party Patriots leader Jenny Beth Martin said, referring to comments Chambliss made over the summer. “So fight.”
Brent Bozell, a Virginia resident who founded the conservative ForAmerica group, said, “They’re telling you they want to end Obamacare without doing everything they can to stop it.”
Bozell, Martin and activists like them have staged similar events across the country in recent weeks. They want Congress to use budget votes later this month to cut off money for the law. The “defund Obamacare” movement has found its stars in first-term Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, all elected as tea party favorites.
The questions are just how to cut off the money and what the political fallout would be.
Bozell said House Republicans should pass spending plans that pay for “all of government except Obamacare” from the start of the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. He said that means cutting off administration funding for the agencies that oversee the law, ending the premium subsidies for individuals shopping in the new exchanges and changing Medicaid law to deny expansion for the government insurance program that serves the poor and disabled.
“We gave them the majority for a reason,” Bozell said. “Somebody has to tell them to use it.”
But skeptical Republicans argue that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wouldn’t bring that bill to the floor in a chamber Democrats control, to say nothing of the certainty that the president wouldn’t sign it. Some Republicans worry that if there is no approved financing for government, the resulting shutdown could hurt the country and the party.
Without specifically mentioning Reid or Obama, Chambliss repeated that argument Tuesday in a written statement. “While calling for a shutdown of the federal government makes for a good sound bite on TV,” he said, “senior citizens going without their social security checks and our military men and women not having the ability to pay their mortgages does more harm than good. I will continue to seek real-world solutions to defund and repeal the law in its entirety.”
Isakson said he’d vote for a bill that finances all of government except the health-care law, but he said he doesn’t expect Reid to bring that idea for a final Senate vote.
Bozell insisted that the president would be responsible for any shutdown, as long as Republicans passed some kind of spending plan. And he argued that Republicans will suffer if they don’t use whatever leverage they have at their disposal. “I think the House could be in jeopardy” in the 2014 mid-term elections, he predicted.
Isakson said he’s aware of the criticism from within his own party, but he noted that he served on the Senate committee that debated the law in 2010 before the president ever signed it into law. “I’m the one guy in the Georgia delegation who tried to defeat it before it ever got out of committee,” he said. “I’ve got a clear record on that, and I’m happy to address it with anyone who wants to call.”