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Obamacare Defunding Fight Could Threaten Boehner Leverage, Message

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call
With 60 Republicans already pushing Boehner, above, to defund Obamacare in any spending bill, the speaker may not be able to cobble together a House majority on a bill that Obama would sign without Democratic votes.

The effort by conservatives in the House and Senate to threaten a government shutdown over Obamacare could force Speaker John A. Boehner into the arms of House Democrats.

With 60 Republicans already pushing the Ohio Republican to defund Obamacare in any spending bill, the speaker may not be able to cobble together a House majority on a bill that President Barack Obama would sign without Democratic votes. And he’s not likely to get those votes for free.

A dozen Republican senators led by Mike Lee, R-Utah, already signed a letter vowing to vote against any continuing resolution that funds Obamacare. And Rep. Marlin Stutzman of Indiana — who helped torpedo GOP leaders’ first attempt at a farm bill — became the first House Republican last week to make the same absolutist pledge.

“I’m not going to vote for a continuing resolution that funds Obamacare,” Stutzman said in a July 25 release. “It makes no sense to spend another dime on a failed law that the president has already delayed.”

But senior aides from both sides of the aisle say the threat would surely backfire on Republicans if they carry it out. For one thing, most of Obama’s new health care program is mandatory spending that is not affected by appropriations bills, so it would continue to receive funding in any event.

“Even if you shut down the government, Obamacare will continue to be funded, and all you will have accomplished in that scenario is a government shutdown,” a senior Republican appropriations aide said.

Such thinking generally tracks with comments made last week by several prominent Republicans, including Rep. Tom Cole and Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Sen. Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, among others.

They have variously warned that Obama will never sign a law defunding his administration’s signature piece of legislation, that Boehner will have to go to Democrats — hat in hand — to pass a CR if he can’t find the votes in his own conference and that a shutdown would be blamed on Republicans and cost them dearly politically.

Cole told MSNBC on Monday that a defunding- sparked shutdown was a “suicidal political tactic.” Burr, a close friend of Boehner’s, called it the “dumbest idea I’ve ever heard of,” while Coburn told the Washington Examiner’s Byron York that it would be “a good way for Republicans to lose the House.”

Democrats believe the defunding fight will paint the GOP as extreme.

Drew Hammill, the communications director for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said “no one has talked about a shutdown except for them.

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