Byron York

Several Republicans have already voiced outright opposition to the defunding proposal. Sen. Tom Coburn called it "dishonest." Sen. Richard Burr called it "the dumbest idea I've ever heard of." Sen. Roy Blunt said it "won't work." Sen. Saxby Chambliss said the same. So did Sen. Mike Johanns. Sen. Susan Collins said it's unrealistic. Sen. John McCain said it's not going to happen. Sen. Bob Corker called it a "silly effort."

That's eight who have chosen to speak out. None will vote for a Obamacare defunding measure that could lead to a shutdown. And if just those eight decline to support a defunding effort, it will fail. And remember, a total of 33 Republicans have declined to sign the Lee letter.

Faced with that reality, some Republicans are discussing a measure that would delay the arrival of Obamacare for a year, or at least delay the start of the individual mandate for a year (as President Obama did unilaterally with the employer mandate). In this scenario, a delay bill would be considered separately from a government funding bill, so there would be no shutdown threat.

The House has already passed a bill to postpone the individual mandate; 22 Democrats supported it. In the Senate, maybe one or two Democrats would go along. The problem, of course, is that even with a defection or two, Democrats have plenty of votes to filibuster the move, stopping it cold.

But maybe there's a deal that could be made. Some Republicans are exploring the possibility of trading some of the changes Democrats want in the sequestration spending cuts in exchange for an Obamacare delay. But of course Republicans would be divided on that, too; the sequestration cuts are the only real spending reductions the GOP has been able to force on the Obama administration. Would Republicans give even some of those up?

More than ever, GOP leaders fear the situation could lead to serious intra-party conflict. "We need to make sure that we're not shooting each other," said Johnson, "that we're not eating our own."


Byron York

Byron York, chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner