Republicans see shutdown fight shift away from 'Obamacare'
Without question, a repeal or delay of the law known as "Obamacare" remains a top priority for Republican lawmakers, who for weeks have insisted on making any bill that funds government contingent on rolling back President Barack Obama's signature domestic achievement.
But a handful of Tea Party-supported conservatives have publicly backed off that fight, one which caused deep rifts within the Republican Party and led to some very public sniping among Republicans on the Senate floor.
With the shutdown battle being subsumed by debate over the need to raise the debt ceiling in the next two weeks, they said the focus needs to shift to strictly fiscal issues.
"I won't be happy with that but I recognize the writing on the wall," congressman Doug Lamborn told reporters during a rare weekend session for the House of Representatives.
"We've tried a lot of things, and maybe used every arrow in our quiver against Obamacare. It has not been successful, so I think we do have to move on to the larger issues of the debt ceiling and the overall budget."
That is no small admission from the man National Journal named in 2010 as the most conservative member of the House.
He was joined by congressman Dennis Ross, another favorite of the anti-tax, pro-small-government Tea Party movement.
"Pride, I think, has got to be swallowed here, probably on both sides," Ross said.
"We're so close to the debt ceiling that I think the two will continue to be combined as we go forward."
The US Treasury says it will run out of money to pay creditors on October 17, triggering a potentially calamitous default unless Congress votes to raise the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling.
Despite the approaching crisis, Republican leadership suggested Saturday that "Obamacare" remained the lynchpin in the party's strategy.
"The Republican position has continued to be, no special treatment under the law, no special treatment under Obamacare," number two House Republican Eric Cantor said.
The White House has held firm that it will accept no changes to the Affordable Care Act, and Ross appeared frustrated with his party's failure to adapt to the political reality that linking Obamacare with the funding of government would be a non-starter.
"I think expectations were built up to a level that could not be delivered," he said.
Some conservatives were refusing to budge.
"We have to get something on Obamacare," congressman Jim Jordan told Bloomberg TV on Friday.
"If you want to get this country on a fiscal path to balance, you can not let an entitlement of this size that will truly bankrupt the country and, more importantly, one that's not going to help Americans with their health care. You can't let this happen."
The Tea Party flank has been criticized by Democrats like Senate Majority Harry Reid as legislative "anarchists" gunning for a shutdown.
"We are not a bunch of hard-headed fools," said Republican congressman Blake Farenthold.
"If we can come up with ways to fix the economy and get the same bang for the buck you would get with Obamacare, let's do it," he added, saying he envisioned negotiations on tax and entitlement reform in the debt limit fight.
"The Obamacare battle I think will live to be fought another day."
Republicans and senior aides say they want to extract some concessions for raising the debt ceiling, such as matching the debt ceiling hike with dollar-for-dollar reductions in federal spending.
"Not a blank check to the president. That's not in the cards," Lamborn warned.
As Americans steam over Congress's inability to keep government open, some Republicans were seeking an escape hatch, to the point of even bucking leadership.
Two-term congressman Scott Rigell told AFP he wanted to see Republican "individual members who perhaps are not in leadership, to identify in advance some solution set" that could draw enough bipartisan support for reopening government and raising the debt ceiling.
"If that comes from leadership, wonderful. If it comes from more grass roots, that may be needed."
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