Byron York
The move to defund Obamacare has been slow to gather support in the Senate. Really slow.

Republican Sen. Mike Lee has asked colleagues to sign a letter promising to "not support any continuing resolution or appropriations legislation that funds further implementation or enforcement of Obamacare." Of the Senate's 46 Republicans, just 12 signed the letter when it was released in late July.

In the weeks since, one more Republican, Sen. Mike Crapo, has joined the pledge, bringing the grand total to 13. That means 33 GOP senators have declined to sign.

The non-signers include some of the most conservative members of the Senate. Recently I asked two of them — both determined opponents of Obamacare — why they have not joined the defunding effort.

"I'm not sure it's the best viable way at this point," said Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions. "I've looked at it really hard, I've talked to Mike, and I certainly respect what he's doing, but I'm not convinced right now that this is going to be a way that will be successful and effective."

The Democratic-controlled Senate won't pass a defunding measure, Sessions argued, and the Democratic president would veto it anyway. "You end up in a government shutdown," he said. "There's no way to avoid this."

Wisconsin's Ron Johnson, who ran for the Senate on a promise to stop Obamacare, echoed Sessions' words. "I've done a lot of strategic planning in my lifetime, and the first step in developing a strategy is you have to recognize reality," Johnson said. "And it is a very sad, unfortunate fact that with President Obama in the White House, and Harry Reid in the Senate, the only way you can realistically defund Obamacare is to repeal it, and ... we haven't had one Democrat break ranks and join us."

Sessions and Johnson were careful to express their respect for Lee, and also to stress that they agree on the overall goal of stopping Obamacare. But the fact is, Republicans on Capitol Hill seem to be increasingly talking past each other on the subject. One group says, "We can't win," while the other says, "We've got to try."

Now some Republicans are laying out the math. Stopping Obamacare funding would require a Republican filibuster. That would take 41 votes to uphold. There are 46 Republicans in the Senate. That means that if just six GOP lawmakers broke ranks and voted with Democrats to continue funding, the effort would fail.


Byron York

Byron York, chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner