By Tim Alberta and Billy House
November 3, 2013
"When your opponent is committing suicide, don't shoot him." That's advice Speaker John Boehner frequently offers to House Republicans, and it appears especially timely in the GOP battle to defeat Obamacare.
Amid the drip-drip-drip of problems surrounding the Affordable Care Act, House Republicans appear to be seriously considering the notion that the best course may be to pipe down and allow Obamacare supporters to continue bleeding.
"To put it in context, we should just try to get out of our own damn way for now," said one House GOP leadership aide.
House members left Washington on Thursday and are out this week, giving lawmakers extended time in their districts for constituent services. The timing is perfect for House Republican leaders, who have grown wary of distracting the public from Obamacare's wobbly rollout with GOP attacks on the law.
The strategy is a stark contrast to the bombastic tone Republicans struck fighting the law to the point of a government shutdown, and then beyond. And, according to some lawmakers, there was discussion among House members about cancelling the break and staying in Washington to continue hammering the health care law.
But House leaders dismissed that idea, feeling confident that the best thing they can do is step back, be quiet, and let Americans watch Obamacare's supporters contend with a faulty website, rising premiums, and an avalanche of policy cancellations.
Essentially, top Republicans believe the negative headlines surrounding the law are doing more damage to the Obamacare brand than any hearing they can conduct or press conference they can stage. The problems speak for themselves, they argue, and Republicans risk overplaying their hand with vocal criticism.
Of course, plenty of Republicans were making this case even before the Oct. 1 rollout, arguing that the Affordable Care Act was in for an ugly introduction. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., seemed to embrace that thinking as far back as Sept. 24, in a colloquy on the Senate floor.
"I think this law has no chance of working," McConnell said, adding that, "I think it is pretty safe to conclude that things that can't work don't stick, and don't last."
Still, not all Republicans are on board with the hands-off approach.
For instance, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has subpoenaed Health and Human Services documents regarding the HealthCare.gov rollout. Meanwhile, other committee chairmen have promised to continue holding investigative hearings into various aspects of the health care law. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is headed back to Capitol Hill to testify in the Senate this week.
Moreover, aides expect the anti-Obamacare action to intensify at the local level. Several Republican lawmakers are planning town-hall meetings specifically geared toward spotlighting the law's impact on individuals and families. Others will be meeting with constituents to document their struggles with Obamacare, and will turn those stories into Web videos, fundraising letters, or TV advertisements.
House leadership made available to members a talking-point "playbook" to use during the recess entitled, "Because of Obamacare … I Lost My Insurance." It is chock-full of suggested and scripted themes and media strategies on how to capitalize politically from the HealthCare.gov website problems and the news of policy cancellations.
That may not bode well for the "don't shoot" strategy. When lawmakers return from their districts on Nov. 12, they are likely to be loaded with ammunition.
But the fact is that some conservatives have been saying for weeks that the best strategy may be a quiet one.
"As unhappy as Americans are now at the prospect of Obamacare," wrote Linda Chavez, a conservative commentator, weeks ago, "just wait until they have to live under it. Even Democrats will be pushing to rewrite the law once their constituents feel its full effects. Patience will pay off for the GOP."