Republicans who once argued against Obamacare bills that fell short of repealing the reform law are now agreeing that smaller changes can be more easily accepted by the public while serving to undermine the healthcare law.
"I'm guessing that they've had this 'squirrel finds a nut' moment of reasonableness," a GOP Senate aide commented to The Hill.
Aides and lobbyists close to the discussions are saying the now-GOP-controlled Senate will vote on its first anti-Obamacare legislation in upcoming weeks, but no members are expected to block the bills, which are said to work toward repairing, not repealing the law.
Part of the reason, sources said, is that Republicans want to show that a GOP-controlled Congress can govern as 2016 rolls around, with hopes that their party will win the White House.
"If we can show that we can lead, we might get an even bigger majority in 2016," the unnamed aide told The Hill. "Republicans can say, 'See, we were right? Put us in charge, and we’ll repeal the whole damn thing.'"
Republicans meeting in Hershey, Pa., Thursday discussed the Obamacare dilemma, reports The National Journal,
but no firm decisions were made.
There is one tactic, budget reconciliation, that could be used, but Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price of Georgia called the tactic a "powerful tool, but not a silver bullet," according to an aide at the meeting. Price, who is a doctor, has acknowledged late last year that the tool may be used for other things.
Other Republicans, though, including Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp, said public anger was how Republicans regained control of Congress, and lawmakers should do all they can to repeal Obamacare.
"This is the only chance to take it down. There's no other strategy. I'd love to hear one. I'd love to be wrong," Huelskamp said. "We can't do it next year. It's too late because they'll say it's an election year."
Even Sen. Ted Cruz, once one of the most strident Obamacare opponents, has been pulling back, saying he wants to fix "the most onerous" parts of the law, rather than repealing it altogether, reports The Hill.
"There used to be an argument pretty prevalent on the Hill: They’re not going to do anything to fix Obama’s problem and force people to live with consequences," said Stuart Butler, who was with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, for 35 years and is now a senior fellow for the Brookings Institution. "Well now, that seems to be not quite the strategy."
The Senate is set to discuss bills that set a work week to be at least 40 hours, not the current lower level set by Obamacare, and the other repeals a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices.
There are some Democrats supporting the bills, so they may not go to Obama as completely coming from Republicans, and even though President Barack Obama is likely to veto the bills, Republicans say the veto will help make their case for a GOP president.
But the Obama administration is saying that Republicans are obsessed with attacks on Obamacare, and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell Thursday called for Congress to move beyond such attacks.
There are still some Republicans calling for repeal, with several House members putting bills forward, along with Louisiana Republican Sens. David Vitter and Bill Cassidy.
Further, Republicans are getting pressure from outside groups to repeal Obamacare, including from The Club for Growth, which sent a letter this week to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio to urge them toward repeal measures.
Brent Bozell, who leads ForAmerica, a tea party group, says Republicans who are backing down on Obamacare will cause "civil wars" in their party.
"If Republicans don’t do something with this mandate [to repeal the healthcare law] that conservatives gave them, conservatives will walk," Bozell said.
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