Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
April 25, 2014

Republicans Refocus From Obamacare to Spending

As the GOP searches for a way to save face with conservatives, climb out of the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling, senior House Republicans are hoping to shift the focus from Obamacare to spending.

Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed from Rep. Paul D. Ryan titled “Here’s How We Can End This Stalemate,” and noticeably absent was the one word that prompted the shutdown chess match: Obamacare.

The Wisconsin Republican is advocating broad, long-term cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, calling those mandatory spending programs “the nation’s biggest challenge.”

He isn’t alone in that thought. Many senior Republicans have long felt the party would be better off fighting for a spending and entitlement overhaul than for a delay or repeal of parts of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.

Ryan quickly received backing from more establishment members of the GOP who had panned the idea of a shutdown and default fight over Obamacare in the first place, such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a key ally of Speaker John A. Boehner.

“At the end of the day, it’s now really a debt ceiling discussion,” said Cole, who endorsed Ryan’s op-ed during a C-SPAN appearance. “It’s not over Obamacare. It’s really a budget, classic taxes, entitlements, spending reform kind of debate.”

Aides said Ryan has been in constant contact with leadership. One aide said the Ryan proposal already has traction within the GOP, and several rank-and-file conservatives told CQ Roll Call the focus has shifted to reining in entitlements.

“That’s where we need to be,” said Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida as he came out of a Wednesday meeting with the Republican Study Committee. “I mean the mandatory spending is killing this country, and if we don’t get that under control, we’re not going to solve this problem.”

Yoho said the shift from Obamacare to fiscal issues “seems to be” common within the GOP conference — although he’s still not sure the debt limit needs to go up.

“I need to be schooled, or somebody needs to convince me, why we need to raise the debt ceiling,” Yoho said.

Ryan’s plan proposes replacing the sequester cuts with long-term, down-the-road cuts to entitlements and enacting tax code changes that would lower rates. In addition to the op-ed, Ryan also released a policy paper Wednesday further explaining his position.

“This is where we’ve been wanting to go all year long,” Ryan told CQ Roll Call Wednesday. “We’ve always known the debt limit is the way to get a budget agreement.”

Though Ryan said Republicans weren’t giving up on Obamacare — noting, “We’re bringing that to the table” — some tea party groups were peeved.

Jenny Beth Martin, the national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, released a statement Wednesday that said Ryan’s op-ed missed the mark.

“We must remember the reason we are fighting and remain united in our opposition to Obamacare,” Martin said.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a former Republican Study Committee chairman, said Obamacare is “still a central part” of the CR and debt limit argument.

“Lots of ideas out there. We just keep making the argument that Obamacare is unfair the way it’s being implemented,” Jordan said.

Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise of Louisiana signaled that some aspect of Obamacare would need to be addressed to win the committee’s support.

He said there was no reason the so-called Vitter amendment — which would eliminate health care subsidies for members of Congress, staff and executive branch workers — should be a “deal-killer.” But Scalise said the committee is mainly focused on “Washington’s spending problem.”

Scalise also said the Republican Study Committee is focused on extracting concessions on the debt limit, even on just a short-term agreement.

“There’s still a lot of things that we can do to do short-term increases in the debt ceiling and actually address the spending problem at the same time,” Scalise said.

But others in the GOP conference are showing openness to raising the debt ceiling without concessions, at least temporarily, and keeping the fight on the CR.

That’s the position of Heritage Action for America CEO Michael Needham, who was a principle pusher of the defund-Obamacare-through-the-CR strategy. On Wednesday, Needham said his “tactic” for dismantling Obamacare “is to focus on the CR.”

He’s not alone.

Conservative columnist Erick Erickson wrote an op-ed Monday that advised Republicans to raise the debt ceiling but keep the Obamacare fight going on the CR.

“I think there is a discussion of separating the two, maybe make sure we don’t default and continue to fight spending levels,” said Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga, a senior appropriator.

The push for an escape hatch could grow as polls show the party taking a beating over the shutdown and Wall Street gets nervous as a default gets closer. A new Gallup poll released Wednesday showed the Republican Party dipping to the lowest approval rating on record going back 20 years — 28 percent, down 10 points in a month.

Democrats and the White House say they are open to negotiations, provided the GOP opens the government and extends the debt ceiling in the meantime.

Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen of Maryland told reporters Wednesday that there could be agreement on a set of principles to guide lawmakers on a path to a negotiated fiscal 2014 budget.

“There may be room to find a sliver of hope,” he said.

There were small signals of movement Wednesday — and speculation about whether both parties could agree on a budget framework that would include at a minimum a short-term debt limit hike.

First, Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor met with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer. And the leaders seemed tight-lipped — a typical sign of progress.

President Barack Obama also invited the entire House Republican Conference to the White House Thursday. But Republicans were hopeful that a “smaller group of negotiators” would create a more fruitful discussion. Among the 18 Republicans headed to the White House? Ryan, the House Budget chairman.

Emma Dumain contributed to this report.

  • Ed Burns

    RE: “That’s where we need to be,” said Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida as he came
    out of a Wednesday meeting with the Republican Study Committee. “I mean
    the mandatory spending is killing this country, and if we don’t get that
    under control, we’re not going to solve this problem.” The repubs have been trying years to stop or cut Social Security… If they had left the SS funds alone instead of stealing and spending the billions from the SS account on wars, pork and whatever, now there are no more funds to steal so it has been reclassified and called an entitlement? It is not, nor has it ever been an entitlement… I wish those dummies would get this thru their pea brains.

    I contributed to SS for almost 60 years and I do not consider it an entitlement I call it a mandatory retirement fund for the working class, without the SS program there would be many more people on welfare, homeless with no income if SS wasn’t available.

    So if you believe that garbage the republicans are putting out about “entitlements” go ahead because both parties are in bed together!

    Further in reference to Rep.Yoho statement; It is not the “mandatory spending” that is killing this country it is their wasteful spending on wars, pork, bailouts, trade deficits, etc., which they better get a handle on it before we go down the tubes!

    Here is a excerpt from an article written by an Assistant Secretary of Treasury:

    “Alas, Social Security is an unfunded liability, because all the money working people put into it was stolen by Republicans and Democrats in order to pay for wars and bailouts for mega-rich bankers like Goldman Sachs.

    What I am about to tell you might come as a shock, but it is the absolute truth, which you can verify for yourself by going online to the government’s annual OASDI and HI reports. According to the official 2010 Social Security reports, between 1984 and 2009 the American people contributed $2 trillion, that is $2,000 billion, more to Social Security and Medicare in payroll taxes than was paid out in benefits.

    What happened to the surplus $2,000 billion, or $2,000,000,000,000.

    The government spent it.

    Over the past quarter century, $2 trillion in Social Security and Medicare revenues have been used to finance wars and pork-barrel projects of the US government.

    Depending on assumptions about population growth, income growth and other factors, Social Security continues to be in the black until after 2025 or 2035 under the “high cost” and “intermediate” assumptions and the current payroll tax rate of 15.3% based on the revenues paid in and the interest on those surplus revenues. Under the low cost scenario, Social Security (OASDI) will have produced surplus revenues of $31.6 trillion by 2085.

    Secretary of the Treasury for President

    “Alas, Social Security is an unfunded liability, because all the money working people put into it was stolen by Republicans and Democrats in order to pay for wars and bailouts for mega-rich bankers like Goldman Sachs.

    What I am about to tell you might come as a shock, but it is the absolute truth, which you can verify for yourself by going online to the government’s annual OASDI and HI reports. According to the official 2010 Social Security reports, between 1984 and 2009 the American people contributed $2 trillion, that is $2,000 billion, more to Social Security and Medicare in payroll taxes than was paid out in benefits.

    What happened to the surplus $2,000 billion, or $2,000,000,000,000.

    The government spent it.

    Over the past quarter century, $2 trillion in Social Security and Medicare revenues have been used to finance wars and pork-barrel projects of the US government.

    Depending on assumptions about population growth, income growth and other factors, Social Security continues to be in the black until after 2025 or 2035 under the “high cost” and “intermediate” assumptions and the current payroll tax rate of 15.3% based on the revenues paid in and the interest on those surplus revenues. Under the low cost scenario, Social Security (OASDI) will have produced surplus revenues of $31.6 trillion by 2085.”

    Read the complete article here: http://paulcraigroberts.org/2011/03/09/stealing-from-social-security-to-pay-for-wars-and-bailouts/

  • Beeker

    “I need to be schooled, or somebody needs to convince me, why we need to raise the debt ceiling,” Yoho said.
    As member of Congress, he has access to economists in order to teach him something. Guess he didn’t learn that in dental school.

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