Republicans Plan To Exploit Abortion Issue To Defund Health Law

defundThe American Spectator’s Phil Klein argues that while repealing all or portions of the health care law remains a longshot, many conservatives are now focusing on defunding some of the most unpopular provisions. The idea has been batted around by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and John McCain (R-AZ) almost immediately after the law passed, but as Klein describes, the idea is picking up some serious traction.

Republicans speculate that they could defund the most unpopular provisions through the appropriations process, offering “an amendment to the committee that targeted a provision of the law, adding the language, ‘No funds shall…” One strategy under consideration is to envelop the defunding amendments in abortion language, and peel off the votes of several old members of the so-called Stupak coalition:

One of the most effective tactics Republicans could use, he said, would be to pass an appropriations bill that includes the more restrictive language on abortion championed by Rep. Bart Stupak, who ultimately caved and supported a bill that did allow for public funding (though he vehemently denies it). Such a move would provoke a fight in which pro-choice Democrats would once again have to choose between ObamaCare and limits on private abortion coverage.

“If you put the Stupak language in an appropriations bill, you can win the message war and remind the public that this is what ObamaCare does, and that it’s always going to do this unless you repeal it,” Cannon said. Even if Republicans ultimately flinch, “We could spend weeks and weeks talking about how ObamaCare covers abortion and making it less and less popular.”

Depending on how the midterm elections turn out, some of these strategies may, in fact, prove successful. (Since pro-life Democrats came perilously close to placing the abortion issue ahead of health reform.) But as Klein rightly notes in his article, Republicans should be careful what they wish for. Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s efforts to shut down the government in 1995 were incredibly unpopular with the American public. His personal disapproval ratings reached a high of 65 percent, and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said that Gingrich “made the mistake of his life.” In 1996, even Gingrich himself admitted that “‘our strategy failed’ because Mr. Clinton and his allies, instead of surrendering and making a budget deal, ‘were tougher than I thought they would be.’”

Should Republicans pursue this strategy, however, it’s far from certain that they’ll succeed. As Gail Wilensky, administrator of CMS under George H. W. Bush, explained last month, “it has been very difficult historically to do this type of a starving unless you have a very large majority behind you.” “So you could technically see this as a way to go after all those thing that are not mandatory funding. But a lot of the activity in this early period is, I think not at risk,” she said.