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February 11, 2016

Heritage Action Leaves GOP ‘in the Lurch’ on Government Shutdown

Updated 2:30 p.m. | As Heritage Action for America pushes lawmakers to kill any bill that funds Obamacare, the conservative group is running into a question it refuses to answer: If the government shuts down, what next?

In private meetings with Heritage Action representatives — namely, Heritage Action CEO Mike Needham, Chief Operating Officer Tim Chapman and Director of House Relations Erin Siefring — lawmakers say they have asked Heritage Action what its strategy would be if the government shut down.

And Heritage Action, they say, does not have an answer.

“There is no plan B, there is no ‘what if,’” said one Republican lawmaker who spoke to CQ Roll Call on the condition of anonymity. He said he had talked to a “handful” of members who met with Heritage Action and the outside conservative group had “no viable alternative” to the president caving in.

“That’s leaving us in the lurch. That’s not proper planning,” the lawmaker said, explaining that the president defunding his administration’s signature piece of legislation was not exactly a likely scenario.

On Wednesday, Speaker John A. Boehner laid out a strategy of “targeted strikes” against the health care law to highlight “significant Democratic defections, chipping away at the legislative coalition that keeps the president’s health care law on the books,” according to a GOP leadership aide. The scheme runs in direct contrast with the tactic of defunding the health care law in a continuing resolution that some conservatives are pushing for but others dismiss as a pipe dream.

According to a source in the room, Boehner advocated for a strategy of picking apart the health care law piece by piece.

“We should view the delay votes this month as the opening salvo in a series of well-placed, targeted strikes that will ultimately dissolve the Obamacare coalition and topple this train wreck of a law,” Boehner said, according to the source.

Calling it “our best shot at actually getting rid of Obamacare,” the Ohio Republican’s gambit falls well shy of the approach outside groups such as Heritage are advocating. They want Republicans to vow to vote against any CR that funds Obamacare.

Although Boehner offered a piecemeal strategy, he twice refused to rule out threatening a government shutdown over Obamacare in a news conference with reporters.

“No decisions have been made on the CR,” he said.

But the speaker has never been enamored of threats to shut down the government over Obamacare, and many of his allies have spoken out sharply in recent days against the idea.

Heritage Action’s communications director, Dan Holler, said Republicans were giving up on the idea of defunding Obamacare, lacking imagination and mired in a question impossible to answer.

“You’re asking a hypothetical because you don’t know what the playing field is going to look like,” Holler told CQ Roll Call late Tuesday night. “You don’t know what the playing field is going to look like at the end of September.”

The government is funded through Sept. 30. After that, a stopgap measure is needed to keep the lights on. Heritage has been lobbying members to vow to vote against any such bill that doesn’t defund Obama’s health care law — and they say the five-week August recess is a great time to start changing the outside dynamics.

Holler said GOP leaders are “afraid of pushing” members because they fear the feat is impossible. “We have no idea what’s possible,” Holler said.

But the Republican lawmaker said that’s precisely the problem: “It’s all the art of the possible.”

“This is a laudable goal,” the lawmaker said. “But how can we get this president to meet us halfway on something?”

In response to the lawmaker’s comments, Holler said when House conservatives “think about the ‘art of the possible’ they should be thinking about setting the agenda, driving a message and defining the playing field, not analyzing the chalk lines on Obama’s home turf.”

Still, the Republican lawmaker contended that Heritage had not “thought that deeply beyond” the first stage of its plan.

If a continuing resolution defunding Obamacare somehow — miraculously — got through the Senate, the president would veto it. The more likely scenario is that such a bill would never reach the president’s desk, and Democrats and the White House would bash Republicans daily for playing politics with a simple bill to keep the government running.

Aides on both sides of the aisle theorize that it would be Republicans shouldering most of the blame for a government shutdown, and Obama would have vast political incentive to wait for the GOP to surrender.

A senior Republican aide said if the government shuts down in an effort to defund Obamacare, “it’s not hypothetical to know we’ll need a plausible next step or risk harming the overall cause to rid this country of that terrible law.”

Another senior GOP aide contended, “If outside groups like Heritage Action are trying to sell this strategy, then publicly attacking good conservatives with reasonable questions as pro-Obamacare or not committed to its repeal seems disingenuous.”

The Republican lawmaker had perhaps the most damning indictment of Heritage Action; he said the defund Obamacare strategy “probably fits nicely with their fundraising metrics.”

But Holler insists this effort is about the GOP’s last chance to stop implementation of the health care law. He said this was leadership’s opportunity to show the nation what conservatives really stand for.

“We’d love to be pushing with them to defund Obamacare, and if they did, we’d be side by side with them,” Holler said. “And it’d be awesome.”

  • Zach

    All this effort to repeal a bill that Heritage helped come up with to begin with…

    • 1775concord

      No, Heritage did no help come up with this. There have been dozens of bill proposals, overseas for years, and here, from Harry Truman on. The 1989 Heritage idea was to be one by PRIVATE means, not govt, and was rejected by Heritage in 2001 (per Stuart Butler). So your allegation, oft-repeated by liberals, is false.
      Dems rammed this bill down the throats of Americans whose majority did not want this. You try to blame Republicans now, yet Dems have: Been the only ones who voted for this mess; not one single Republican vote; Voted and removed the long term care provision, with its theoretical addition of funds;dropped the 1099 provision; Obama has “postponed” the company mandate; exemptions have been given to many by Obama to his friends. And now we hear that the enforcers, the IRS, do not even want it. Heritage had no input on this bill.
      Americans, by a large majority, do not ant this Democrat-only bill. Republican representatives are just carrying forward the wishes of their constituents.

      • Zach

        From Forbes (

        “[James] Taranto points out that the Heritage mandate was less onerous than the Obamacare one, as it focused on coverage for catastrophic illness, rather than the comprehensive health plans that Obamacare requires. “On the other hand, Butler’s vague language—‘it might also include certain very specific services…and other items’—would seem to leave the door wide open for limitless expansion,” he writes. “Whatever the particular differences, the Heritage mandate was indistinguishable in principle from the ObamaCare one. In both cases, the federal government would force individuals to purchase a product from a private company—something that Congress has never done before.”

        He also added, “But it is clear that Heritage has repudiated the idea of an individual mandate.” Meaning they liked it before. Now that Obama likes it, they of course cannot.

        You are, of course, closer on the point that their mandate would focus more on heads of households and making them buy insurance – a stupid idea without government enforcement since no insurance company will sell insurance to people with pre-existing conditions if the government is letting them. (By the way, that provision of Obamacare is wildly popular.)

        As far as the “large majority,” the polls don’t show as large a majority as you think – especially when you consider that a good portion of those who don’t like the bill say they don’t because it doesn’t go far enough. Maybe, on the low end, that’s 10-12 percent of the country – not an insignificant group. (These polls are widely available – please do some research if you don’t believe me.) When you consider they won’t be joining any Tea Party “kill the bill” rallies and will probably ultimately back the bill as a first step to universal health care, do you have a majority after all? Doesn’t look like it.

        • 1775concord

          Zach –
          Thanks for your thoughtful and comprehensive response. We so often get snippy inadequate answers on these blogs.
          Again, it’s my opinion that with the Butler 2001 position, it’s hard to call Obamacare an outgrowth of Heritage.
          Preexisting condition people have lined up at the window, and the govt is apparently out of money for them.
          One problem with Obamacare: if it sets the prices for reimbursement, which I hear it is to do. If people are pushed into Medicaid, which most often reimburses less than oerhead, we will have too many people for the system, and longer lines such as in Mass and Canada. With Medicare now, I call the govt the “single underpayer.”
          I agree with your “doesn’t go far enough” point, but believe also that the other end of the spectrum, those wanting none of this, has continued to increase.
          Our health care, while superb, operates in an amorphous mess of a delivery system. It’s right to fix it. Just not the Obamacare way.

          • Zach

            I’m glad we can have a responsible, adult debate on this. Your opinion is different from mine – I view the individual mandate as something that came out of Heritage, that many Republicans publicly supported, and so on. It’s worth noting, given the fact that you mentioned Canada, that most Canadians wanted to keep their health care system – 57 percent were satisfied with it, according to a 2011 poll – and that it works pretty well compared to other OECD countries.
            Besides, once this starts working, opinions will change. This law has already helped me – I get to stay on my folks’ insurance for another year. Others will benefit once provisions start to take effect. The opinion will change. I think it’s very likely it will change for the better.

          • ACDC99

            OC doesn’t set reimbursements rates for services.

          • 1775concord

            The plan for those formerly uninsured, with subsidies for their premiums from the rest of us (“the government pays”), is to go onto an expanded Medicaid plan from the states that are doing it. Indeed, doctors will then be paid at the very low Medicaid rate.

  • Doug Watson

    Affordable Care Act……it’s not an act any longer it’s the LAW dumbos!! The GOP House has voted to repeal it nearly 40 times. Those votes have been nothing but a waste of time, effort and accomplished NOTHING…’s time for the GOP to face reality……IT’S THE LAW!!

    • John Herling

      A bill that has become a law is called an act.

  • Wesley Vischansky

    Yes the Republicans will work forever in their quest to deny working Americans access to affordable health care. Pushing working Americans into poverty is the ultimate goal of the Republican Party.

    • 1775concord

      Besides the fact that your allegation is incorrect (many would even say absurd), this bill does not give affordable care, as current activities by unions (objecting to it), states, and individuals show they know.

    • stormkite

      Actually their ULTIMATE goal is to push working Americans back into the middle ages. Serfs, if not actual slaves – no rights, no voice, no options but to do as they’re told. Poverty just goes along with that.

  • Dwyane Heatle

    Can’t wait to see how the rates on the exchanges pan out. So far, it looks like the free market is delivering savings. Most small businesses are just a few people, if not just sole proprietorships. These exchanges finally make it possible to get a decent rate in the individual market. My dad payed exorbitant rates running his own business. Meanwhile, wage slaves take advantage of the status quo to get decent rates through their company and talk out the side of their mouth about protected job creators. Total hypocrisy.

    As for me, pre existing conditions made health insurance practically impossible to obtain on the former individual market. If I wasn’t young and carefree I would have been discouraged from running my own business. Where is the love for the entrepreneur? How can it be the GOP position that you can only get affordable individual coverage if you’re lucky to be young and free of chronic ailments? Otherwise, too bad go punch a clock or be a millionaire and self insure.

    If you are clock punching supporter of the status quo, please realize that your cowardly hypocritical opinion means jack squat.

  • Shannon Mahoney

    ” He said this was leadership’s opportunity to show the nation what conservatives really stand for.” Yup and that is why I will not vote GOP. You’d rather keep people on the street and left to die needlessly. Also…I think they are using this to avoid other issues…like sneaking in legislation that limits the rights of women…etc. Vote these jerks out…they are obviously bad for the Country.

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