GOP Group Urges Detente on Health Law




In Letter to Boehner, Coalition of Republican Lawmakers Calls for Narrower Approach Than Dismantling Obamacare

A small but increasingly vocal coalition of Republican lawmakers is urging the party’s top brass to stop trying to dismantle the entire health-care law, believing the fight is a losing one for their party.

On Thursday the group proposed a narrower approach: repeal the health law’s medical-device tax and restore funding for federal agencies for the next six months.

Three days into the partial government shutdown, more than 20 GOP lawmakers laid out that suggestion in a draft letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.).

That marks a shift from other Republicans’ insistence that the health law be defunded or delayed for a year. The narrower GOP demand was also backed for the first time by a coalition of House Democrats on Thursday as a way to move beyond the budget impasse. The new group of breakaway Republicans is united less by policy matters and more by an eagerness to change the conversation.

“I voted over 45 times to defund or delay Obamacare—there’s no question how I feel about that law, but I also came here to govern,” said Rep. Lou Barletta (R., Pa.), a former mayor. A conservative on fiscal issues and immigration policy, among other issues, Mr. Barletta said he thinks a piecemeal approach to changing the health law is more realistic. “Shutting the government down does not bring more certainty,” he said.

This group, however, might not be able to change the trajectory of the shutdown battle, given the influence of the GOP’s rebellious right flank, said Republican aides and lawmakers.

“I don’t see any pressure points. I don’t see anybody changing direction,” said Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif.) He said he would vote for a simple short-term spending bill with no policy riders, but added he doesn’t expect GOP leaders to bring one up at this point. “Now that we’ve entered the valley of death, we should probably run together,” he said.

Still, that hasn’t stopped people from trying to change course in the fiscal fight. Some GOP lawmakers have grown irritated with the party’s unwavering insistence on dismantling the health law before fully funding the government. Many see the fingerprints of Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) on a strategy they say has borne little fruit so far.

“Somebody once told me there’s no wisdom to be gained by the second kick of the mule. There’s certainly no wisdom to be gained by the third or fourth kick of the mule,” said Rep. Charlie Dent (R., Pa.), one of the leaders of the group of self-described pragmatist Republicans.

Mr. Dent is working with Rep. Ron Kind (D., Wis.), chairman of the New Democrat coalition, to garner support for a bipartisan proposal to keep the government funded at current levels for six months and repeal the medical-device tax.

In an illustration of the parallel challenges facing centrist Democrats, their party leadership quickly dismissed the proposal Thursday, rejecting the plan for encroaching upon the health law and locking in the across-the-board cuts known as the sequester for six months.

On both sides of the aisle, centrist lawmakers have seen their influence wane. Most Republicans represent solidly conservative districts where their biggest political test stems from challengers in a primary election, rather than a Democratic opponent. Even if the group of Republicans pressing to resolve the budget impasse were to outnumber those most opposed to making any concessions, their message carries greater political risk.

The fiscal fight may have overshadowed the rocky implementation of the health law, without winning Republicans any political points, said Rep. Frank Wolf (R., Va.)

“I want us to be in the majority [again] in 2014 and I don’t think this is the way to get there,” he said.

A version of this article appeared   U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal

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