Heritage, Club Back in Leadership’s Corner on Obamacare

Posted November 12, 2013 at 5:33pm

If you like GOP leadership’s health care plan, so too does the Club for Growth and Heritage Action for America.

The two conservative groups, known better of late for their troublemaker opposition to the Republican leadership’s strategies, are back on board as leadership looks to strike at smaller chunks of Obamacare and highlight Democratic divisions.

“It’s a no-brainer for Republicans to spend every day talking about a law that is incredibly unpopular with Americans and getting more unpopular every day,” said Barney Keller, the communications director of the Club for Growth. “It’s a political winner for Republicans, and we’ve said that all along.”

Heritage Action Communications Director Dan Holler had a similar message Tuesday.

“You need to be able to crack the red-state Democrats,” Holler said. “There’s a willingness on the outside, certainly for us, to say, ‘What’s it going to take to create a little daylight between these red-state Democrats and the president?’”

But GOP leadership might be wondering where that willingness was before the shutdown.

Heritage Action and the Club for Growth were the primary pushers of the defund-Obamacare-through-the-continuing-resolution strategy, and the groups earlier helped wreck a leadership plan to tweak the law for people with pre-existing conditions, fomenting a conservative revolt against fixing the law instead of repealing it entirely.

Now Republicans have new leverage — a broken website and a broken promise — and Heritage Action and the Club for Growth are keen, for now, to take the “targeted” approach.

What’s changed?

“The shutdown alienated independent voters. You don’t need to look any further than Virginia to see that dynamic play out,” said Brian Walsh, a GOP strategist and former National Republican Senatorial Committee communications director.

“It’s unfortunate that these groups wasted months of messaging and hundreds of thousands of dollars on that failed strategy,” Walsh said. “To their credit, they’re finally seeing the light of political reality. … The way you affect public policy is by winning elections, not by attacking people on your own side.”

Indeed, Heritage Action seemed to acknowledge Tuesday that an election may have to take place before Republicans could actually repeal Obamacare, noting that the lesson of the shutdown was that “red-state Democrats didn’t break.”

“They showed tremendous unity,” Holler said, adding that Democrats and, particularly, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, “locked down on their guys.”

Indeed, “the whole entire defund strategy was predicated on red-state Democrats having a clean break from Obamacare,” Holler said.

That didn’t happen, but the law’s rollout woes have Democrats suddenly looking for cover.

“The more Obamacare begins to hurt Arkansans, and the more voters broadly begin to feel the effects, the more unpopular Democrats, like Mark Pryor, who voted for it, will become,” Keller said. “That’s just a fact. And that’s going to happen with or without the [Fred] Upton bill.”

The Upton bill — which Republicans are now half-jokingly calling the “Bill Clinton bill” after the former president said Tuesday that Obama should “honor the commitment” to let Americans keep their health care plans if they like them — would allow, though not require, insurance companies to continue offering existing plans even if they don’t meet the standards established by the Affordable Care Act.

“We see that as throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday, explaining that the legislation would undermine insurance changes in the health care law by letting insurance companies continuing to sign up new customers for old plans.

Carney did say, however, that President Barack Obama had “tasked his team with looking at a range of options” so that anybody with a canceled plan could afford a better plan.

Meanwhile, House Democratic leaders announced Tuesday they were unified in opposition to the bill, because they determined it would undermine the law by increasing premiums and allowing insurance companies to continue discriminating based on pre-existing conditions. Still, when the House votes on the bill Friday, there could be a number of Democratic defections.

It’s a turnabout from a month ago, when Republicans were at war with each other over the shutdown against a united Democratic Party.

“As a legislative tactic, it’s always a good thing to be united around conservative principles,” Keller said.

Keller also said, “Too often in the past, Republican leaders have pushed conservatives to vote for more moderate, big government policy. But because of the increasing ranks of conservatives in Congress, that paradigm has changed.”

GOP leadership, for its part, noted that Republicans have “always had,” as Speaker John A. Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel put it, “an ‘all of the above’ approach” to repealing, partially repealing, delaying, defunding or otherwise stopping Obamacare.

“House Republicans are doing everything in our power to protect the American people from the impact of this awful law,” Steel told CQ Roll Call.

But at some point, for Heritage Action and the Club for Growth, those efforts have to materialize in more meaningful ways than the more than 40 votes the House has taken to dismantle Obamacare and the seven bills Obama has signed into law that repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act.

“At some point, that has to become real legislatively,” Holler said. “I don’t think we’re there yet.”

Holler said the question was whether these votes were “merely a political strategy” to highlight differences between Democrats and Republicans.

“Or is there an effort to get real, tangible policy results?” he asked.