Much was made last week when House Republican leadership failed to garner enough support for legislation that would have stripped funding from one Obamacare program to shore up another.
There they go again, the D.C. commentariat uttered, in reference to the GOP leadership's inability to corral their rebellious conservatives and move a bill that was intended to show the voting public not just what Republicans are against — in this case, the Affordable Care Act — but what they are for. The legislation proposes to divert up to $3.7 billion from the Affordable Care Act's Prevention and Public Health Fund to bolster the Pre-Existing Conditions Insurance Plan, which is facing implementation difficulties.
But the real story behind what appeared to be a typical GOP leadership problem of inability to build a consensus was the debate the House majority has been having with itself over how to handle Obamacare as implementation of the law accelerates between now and the 2014 midterm elections. As I reported, there is an honest philosophical disagreement over the best way to make voters realize, from the point of view of the Republicans, just how bad Obamacare is now that full implementation is under way.
There's also a disagreement over how best to profit politically from what Republicans believe is the looming implementation disaster. Republican leaders, understanding that full repeal is a nonstarter with Senate Democrats and President Barack Obama, want to keep the Affordable Care Act in the news as much as possible by offering targeted bills that repeal portions of it or otherwise highlight the statute's problems.
But many in the rank and file, particularly the freshman and sophomore members but also some of the veterans, believe the best way to make the case against the health care law is to push for full repeal, both because of the message it sends and in some cases because they fear that repealing the worst parts of it might reduce public demand to throw the whole thing out.
"Some want to pick it apart and bring up the issue on a daily basis, others are all repeal or nothing and the final camp is to let it get fully implemented and watch how it crushes the tax payers and the economic drivers in the U.S.," a Republican political operative told me on Friday. "The last group is not dissimilar than people who said let sequestration take effect and see what happens when we have to prioritize items, like FAA vs. free phones."