The end of the shutdown has undermined the influence of conservative Tea Party lawmakers, weakened the so-called Hastert rule, and injected new life into the 2014 midterm elections. But the standoff has also dealt a serious blow to the GOP’s three-year campaign to repeal or defund the Affordable Care Act.
Throughout this budget debate, conservative lawmakers and pundits repeatedly insisted that the continuing resolution battle represented their final opportunity to defund the law, arguing that they wouldn’t be able to undermine the measure once Americans enroll in the new health care marketplaces and begin receiving coverage in January:
— SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT): “This is the last stop on the Obamacare express. Before this law kicks in in full force on January 1st, 2014, we have one last shot. And that shot will occur when this current continuing resolution expires September 30th. We have got to pass another one to keep the government funded. [Fox News, 7/24/2013]
— SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): “So this is right now on the continuing resolution our best opportunity and it may be our last opportunity to defund it.” [Fox News, 7/30/2013]
— SEN. DAVID VITTER (R-LA): “October 1st is when a lot of it really kicks in, so the country is watching and a lot of folks think once it gets into law and starts to put down roots, it’s going to be more difficult to disrupt.” [Fox on the Record with Greta, 9/24/2013]
— SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): “And here’s my last point to my colleagues in the Republican Party, who I know every single one of the Senate members here in the Republican Party are against ObamaCare, this is our last chance and our last best chance to do something about this.” [Senate floor, 7/30/2013]
— RUSH LIMBAUGH: “[T]here are elected Republican conservatives in the House and the Senate who are going to make one final effort here via this continuing resolution fight that will come up in September to make one last attempt to stop any further implementation of Obamacare.” [7/25/2013]
— HERITAGE ACTION: “We only have one more chance to repeal Obamacare. And we cannot do it without your support.” [Fundraiser, 2013]
— FREEDOMWORKS: “[T]his may be the last best chance to defund Obamacare before it goes into effect as President Obama’s strategy is to enroll as many people as possible getting them addicted to the sugar of subsidies.” 
Of course, Republicans have used the “last chance” rhetoric before, most prominently during the 2012 presidential election. But this time, something feels different: Americans are signing-up for coverage, the number of voters who support an outright repeal has decreased, and even Republicans like Sen. Kelly Ayotte (NH) and John McCain (AZ) are calling on conservatives to stand down. The party will continue to hold countless oversight hearings on implementation — and 2016 presidential hopefuls will talk about repealing the law — but the effort to fundamentally undermine reform is over.