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Topics: House of Representatives

Conservatives admit defeat but vow to press their fight against Obamacare

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,Obamacare,House of Representatives,Republican Party,Health Care,Debt Ceiling,PennAve,Budgets and Deficits,Government Shutdown

No regrets.

So say the band of House conservatives who led the fight to defund Obamacare in a spending battle that shuttered the government for two weeks and threatened a default on the nation's debt.

The Suicide Caucus, Tea Party Caucus, or Band of Anarchists, as this group of lawmakers have been called, marched out of a basement meeting in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday after hearing from GOP leaders that their fight to block the health care law was about to end with a late-night vote on a final compromise that would pass with the help of Democrats.

"Why would you have regrets?" Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., reasoned to a scrum of reporters after the meeting. "I don't think that anybody believes that when you stand and fight on principle, you lose. That's what we did."

The final bill temporarily preserves the year-old sequester cuts Republicans demanded, but it includes nothing to limit the reach of the health care law that Salmon and his conservative colleagues vowed to block. It also extends the nation's $16.7 trillion borrowing limit for nearly four months — without any of the spending cuts Republicans wanted to offset the increase.

Conservative lawmakers admit they got their clocks cleaned.

“Well, we lost," Rep. John Campbell, R-Calif., said, referring to the government funding and debt limit extension deal cut by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that heavily favors Democrats. "It's about as much of a bipartisan deal as the Armistice in Versailles in 1918. The Germans negotiated surrender, and that's what we did.”

Polls show that the 16-day government shutdown hurt Republicans most because voters perceive that the deadlock was caused by the GOP fight over dismantling Obamacare. The GOP also was pummeled in the media, including right-leaning organizations.

But inside the Capitol, Republicans seemed strangely unified after weeks of intense infighting over strategy.

Even the more moderate Republicans, who days ago wanted to vote to fund the government, softened their criticism of their trouble-making, far-right faction.

"I, and others, wanted to pursue a different tactic," Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., said, referring to the band of moderates who fought to end the shutdown with a bill that included fewer demands. "We didn't prevail. Would that other tactic have prevailed? Who knows. Maybe it wouldn't have prevailed."

He added, "Tomorrow's another day."

Chief Deputy Whip Pete Roskam, R-Ill., took a conciliatory approach, too.

"House Republicans have fought clearly and forcefully to get the government on its right footing," Roskam told the Washington Examiner. "So there is no question as to where the party stands."

Even in defeat, conservatives are not giving up. They told the Examiner that they are gearing up for another run at changing Obamacare, encouraged by the problematic start of the health insurance exchanges created by the new law, which they said will only bolster the case they tried to make these past weeks.

"I think Americans now understand and they are willing to fight and willing to take on Obamacare," Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., said. "With this troubled rollout it's just more proof every day we have the right position, policy wise and politically."

"I'm not done yet," Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., said. "I'm still going to try."

Conservatives are, however, wiling to re-consider their tactics, which led to the shutdown after they refused to support any House spending bill that included funding for the health care law or did not at least delay it.

"I think everyone is going to learn from this," Salmon said. "We can now go home and ponder on this and figure out how we can be effective in the future."

Massie and other conservatives said that while they appreciate House Speaker John Boehner's efforts support over the past 16 days, they believe that Republicans in the end weakened their hand in the fight over Obamacare by giving in to Wednesday's deal.

The compromise approved late Wednesday extends government funding until Jan. 15 and the borrowing limit until Feb. 7. Under the terms of the deal, the two chambers, and both parties, will have to agree to a long-term budget plan by Dec. 13.

But the GOP won't have much leverage, Massie warned.

"We capitulated on this one," Massie said. "We blinked. So we have less credibility going into the next … fight."

But the group has gained credibility with their constituents, and that may be what matters most, Huelskamp said.

"You might hear in Washington that boy, this was a big loss," he said. "And we did lose the battle. But, if you go outside the Beltway, and maybe it's just the red states, we are winning the war. Finally someone is pushing back against an administration that has had excesses for five years, well beyond what most of mainstream America is looking for. So, there is a value in actually fighting back."

Examiner Senior Congressional Correspondent David M. Drucker contributed to this article.

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Susan Ferrechio

Chief Congressional Correspondent
The Washington Examiner