After weeks of maneuvering and strategizing, it appears the end of the road is near for the conservative House Republicans who have sought to use a government funding measure to put severe limits on Obamacare. And the painful truth is they have not gotten anything close to the Obamacare restrictions they sought, and there's no chance they will in the current battle.
They haven't repealed Obamacare, haven't defunded it, haven't delayed it for a year, haven't delayed the individual mandate, haven't delayed the penalty for the individual mandate -- in other words, they haven't accomplished any of the goals they embraced at the beginning of the continuing resolution fight. Even after a partial shutdown of the government, now in its third week, all of the group's goals remain elusive.
Instead, they are being asked to agree to weak measures that will not fundamentally change Obamacare. The Senate is considering a measure to force the Obama administration to actually verify that Obamacare subsidy recipients are actually qualified to receive those subsidies, but even that provision is weaker than many Republicans prefer. The Senate is also considering the repeal of a tax that unions have found burdensome, but that is a Democratic goal that House GOP conservatives don't seem to care about.
Then there is the medical device tax. Of course the conservatives oppose it and would like to see it gone. But from the beginning of the fight, they have dismissed medical device repeal as a small measure that would mostly affect the makers of the devices, and not the millions of Americans who will face higher premiums, higher deductibles, fewer hours on the job and other burdens from Obamacare. The conservatives set out to do something big to help those millions; repealing the medical device tax isn't that thing.
That leaves the Vitter amendment, which would ban special subsidies for members of Congress and staff who are forced to buy insurance on the Obamacare exchanges. Democrats hate it, and some Republicans do, too. But whatever the merits of the amendment, the fact is that it applies only to a relatively small group of people, meaning it, too, will not improve the lot of the millions of people facing the mandates and burdens of Obamacare.
But that's all the GOP conservatives have right now. So what can they do? If you had shut down the government as part of a strategy to stop, or significantly slow and limit, Obamacare, would you settle for the Vitter Amendment? As fig leaves go, it is very, very small. Maybe some of the GOP conservatives who pushed the original defund strategy will decide it's the best they can do and will vote for it. Maybe they won't.
Now Speaker John Boehner is in roughly the same position he was on September 30, only more so. Back then, he faced the dilemma of sticking with those House conservatives, insisting on tougher Obamacare measures, and letting the government shut down, or passing a spending bill with a lot of Republican votes plus many Democrats. He chose the shutdown. Now, with the debt limit deadline approaching, Boehner has the same choice to make.