The number and names are in: 80 House Republicans representing the most conservative wing of their conference have signed the letter urging leadership to defund Obamacare in any spending bill to float the government past Sept. 30.
The letter, spearheaded by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., doesn't mention "government shutdown," but that's exactly what that strategy would provoke, given that a repeal by any other name is dead on arrival in the Senate and would not be signed by President Barack Obama.
The letter does give the lawmakers an out — it stops short of demanding defunding in return for their votes. And the number — about a third of the GOP Conference — falls well short of putting GOP leaders at risk of violating the "Hastert rule" requiring a majority of the majority if they ignore the letter.
"I think that number is going to continue to grow as we continue through August," said Dan Holler, spokesman for Heritage Action for America, the conservative advocacy group that has put $550,000 behind an ad campaign pressuring nearly 100 House GOP holdouts to sign Meadows' letter. "I don't accept the premise that this [number] is where we are going to end up."
Though Meadows' office submitted the letter to Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., on Thursday, the letter will remain open to receiving more signatures in the days ahead, and Heritage Action will continue to monitor developments, Holler said.
Five GOP lawmakers whose names appeared on Heritage Action's target list ultimately signed on to the Meadows letter: Reps. Tim Griffin of Arkansas, Todd Rokita of Indiana, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, George Holding of North Carolina and Ralph M. Hall of Texas.
Griffin denied Heritage swayed his vote in a statement to CQ Roll Call.
“I took a close look at the letter after a constituent asked me to," he said. "I researched it thoroughly and signed on. As my voting record indicates, I’m very independent and don’t always agree with Heritage Action.”
On Monday, House Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., told CQ Roll Call he thought that Democrats would have significant leverage going into the funding battles this fall given the GOP's track record of having difficulty shoring up the necessary votes to pass crucial legislation without Democrats' help — meaning any continuing resolution would need to be palatable to the minority party, and defunding Democrats' signature health care law wouldn't qualify.
A Democratic leadership aide, meanwhile, said he thought the number of Republicans currently suggesting they'd only vote for an appropriations bill if it included language to dismantle Obamacare was surprisingly low.
"It's the number they have defecting on everything," the aide said, adding that Democrats didn't need a head count of co-signers onto Meadows' letter to signal that Republican leaders might have a problem passing crucial legislation with the majority of their majority.
Meadows' letter was sent out shortly after news outlets, including CQ Roll Call, reported that House Republican leaders were beginning to consider whether it would be better to tie Obamacare to raising the debt limit, which Congress will have to take up later this fall — a move Heritage Action rejects, according to Holler.
"If you wait until the debt ceiling, Obamacare exchanges will be up and running and that's a problem," Holler said, adding that the proper vehicle for dealing with dismantling the health care law was through appropriations bills anyway.
The co-signer of Meadows' letter appear to agree.
"Since much of the implementation of ObamaCare is a function of the discretionary appropriations process, including the operation of the 'mandatory spending' portions of the law, and since most of the citizens we represent believe that ObamaCare should never go into effect, we urge you to affirmatively de-fund the implementation and enforcement of ObamaCare in any relevant appropriations bill brought to the House floor in the 113th Congress," they wrote.