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Minnesota GOP insiders worry about U.S. House strategy to defund Obamacare

Consultants and message maestros in Minnesota predict Republicans will lose in an Obamacare versus budget showdown.

Vin Weber: “The mistake is that Republicans have asked for something he cannot possibly give them.”
REUTERS/Jim Bourg

A torrent of criticism met the Republican resolution in the U.S. House to link defunding of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) with funding for a federal budget and raising the debt ceiling.

Not all of those disparaging remarks are coming from Democrats.

“The dumbest idea I’ve ever heard,” was the opinion of Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina. The Wall Street Journal editorial board likened the resolution to a “kamikaze mission.”

Republican consultants and message maestros in Minnesota tend to concur.

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“If this is just yet another tactic to remind people that they don’t like Obamacare, it’s acceptable,” said former Congressman Vin Weber, managing partner of Clark and Weinstock, a public policy consulting group in Washington, D.C. “If it actually leads to a shutdown of government and a failure to raise debt limit, it’s disastrous.”

Michael Brodkorb, author of the blog politics.mn, doesn’t even give credit to the resolution as a tactical maneuver. “After doing something 42 times, it’s going to lose effect,” he said referring the GOP-controlled House resolutions to repeal the health care law. “The strategy of doing it over and over and expecting the outcome to change is an exercise in futility.”

‘Not going to happen’

Ben Golnik, director of the political action committee Minnesota Jobs Coalition, said that given the concerns about Obamacare, “there is an opportunity to make political hay out of this.” But, he added, “at this stage you are not going to undo Obamacare. The reality is, it’s not going happen.”

That is what worries Weber, a former U.S. House member from Minnesota, who says the strategy lacks an exit plan. Furthermore, he said, Republicans can and should make a deal with the White House on spending.

“I think the president is wrong that he won’t negotiate. We negotiate over this stuff all the time, all the time,” he said. “The mistake is that Republicans have asked for something he cannot possibly give them.”

He added that Republicans have options when it comes to making deals on deficit reduction by offering proposals that Obama could accept, like adjusting the consumer price index to determine Social Security benefits.

Local Republican observers say the Affordable Care Act is flawed, and many Americans share their skepticism. Steven Schier, professor of political science at Carleton College in Northfield, notes that in many public opinion polls, a majority of respondents want changes, “but overturning it is a minority opinion and that’s where the risk is for the GOP.”

Among GOP politicians, who could take on this risk and come out ahead? “If you’re someone who is worried about being challenged from the right, it’s something you look at,” said Golnik. “If you’re Ted Cruz looking to run for president and firing up the base — for him it makes a lot of sense politically.”   

Schier concurs that the audience for the threat of a government shutdown and the demand to destroy Obamacare is the activists of the Republican Party. And that, he said, is self-destructive. “At this point, the 30 to 40 most conservative members of Congress are determining the strategy for the party,” he said.

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Brodkorb would advise a different approach for House Republicans: “Concentrate on overhauling substantial portions of the bill — that might be a better use of their resources.”

That’s the message GOP uber-consultant Karl Rove has been sending in his multiple statements on the subject. “They can attempt to repeal parts of ObamaCare or seriously alter some of its provisions, as the House GOP did when it pressed the issue of delaying the individual mandate when the Obama administration delayed the employer mandate,” Rove wrote in his column for Fox News.

GOP strategy on MNsure

Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature have taken that tack to register their opposition to MNsure, the state’s program to implement Obamacare.  They’re trying to gain the upper hand by pointing out flaws in the program’s security, outreach and accountability and promising to act as watchdogs.

That’s a stronger position to defend during the 2014 elections than a government shutdown, said Brodkorb. Schier added: “If we do have a government shutdown or if there is economic tumult as a consequence of the debt limit expiring, those activities will be evaluated more than usual.”

But when it comes to changing GOP election outcomes, Weber isn’t as convinced. “I don’t think it ends up costing them much [in 2014],” he said. “It’s hard to convince people Washington has screwed something up because people have factored that into their thinking.”

But Schier said the Republican Party shouldn’t count on a voter shrug of the shoulders. “The Republican Party has a significant reputation problem.  It’s one of those times when the public is paying attention,” he said. “If we get an economic convulsion people will understand right away.”