A fiery political battle was raging among House Republicans this week over a temporary budget bill to keep the government funded when the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.
While the nation is focused on the civil war in Syria, a budgetary civil war is being fought out here among House Republican leaders who want to avoid a government shut down and rank-and-file conservatives who want to defund President Obama's health care program in the pending budget plan.
House Speaker John Boehner and the rest of his GOP leadership have put together a budget that skirts a direct defunding of Obamacare that couldn't pass the Democrat-controlled Senate anyway.
Instead, Boehner and his deputies have crafted a budget that contains a resolution to defund Obama's Affordable Care Act. But this provision is structured in a way to let the Senate vote it down and send the rest of the bill on to the White House for the president's signature.
Thus, the House avoids triggering another government shut down crisis, but forces Senate Democrats to cast an up or down vote on ending Obama's unpopular health insurance law.
That would be one of the most consequential votes of the 2013-14 election year cycle when Senate Democrats are facing many more tight election battles than their GOP counterparts. A number of them are from Republican "red" states where Obamacare is politically lethal.
But Boehner's plan has run into a buzz saw of opposition from tea party Republicans in the House and from outside conservative groups. Many want the budget to delay funds for Obamacare's implementation for a year in the hope the GOP will win back the Senate in 2014 and be able to kill it outright. Others want it killed outright.
As of Wednesday, GOP leaders admitted they did not have enough votes to pass their budget as it is drafted and delayed any vote until next week.
"There's going to be tremendous pressure on the conference to vote against this idea," said GOP Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana. He wants a one year Obamacare delay to be part of any agreement to raise the debt limit next month.
House Republicans were also being bombarded by fierce e-mails from anti-tax, budget-cutting groups like the Club for Growth and Freedom Works.
"First Boehner betrayed us by supporting Obama's war in Syria. Now he wants to trick you into supporting ObamaCare," e-mailed Freedom Works president Matt Kibbe. "Boehner is jumping through hoops to help Barack Obama and betray the American people."
Some of the incoming fire came from Republicans in the Senate such as freshman Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. "If House Republicans go along with this strategy, they will be complicit in the disaster that is Obamacare," Cruz told a tea party rally at the Capitol.
But Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and the rest of the House GOP leadership argue that shutting down the government is a strategy for defeat.
If Congress cannot pass a continuing budget, the story becomes the government shut down, Medicare and Social Security, and other essential services that affect powerful political constituencies.
If that should happen, a third of Americans would blame Obama, but 51 percent would blame Republicans, according to a recent CNN public opinion poll.
The Democratic Senate is not going to kill Obamacare, even if it means shutting the government down. Certainly, the president is not going to sign any bill that does that or delays its rollout next year.
The Democrats and the White House would demagogue any shutdown with the support of the national news media. It would be a no-win proposition from the start for the GOP.
Boehner's more cautious strategy is two-fold: Approve a short- term bill that continues to fund the government at current levels through Dec. 15, but also continues making the sharp sequester budget cuts and holds Democrats and Obama on a shorter spending leash.
At the same time, it would force Democrats to vote on a resolution to defund Obamacare before sending the bill to the White House -- giving the Republicans a huge issue in next year's campaigns when 21 Democratic Senate seats will be at stake, compared to only 14 for the GOP.
Cooler conservatives in the House GOP caucus support Boehner's approach, such as Rep. Tim Griffin of Arkansas. "By and large, people understand Obamacare is not our creation. We're doing the best we can to stop this, and this may be our best option," Griffin told The Washington Post.
Would Senate Democrats buy into Boehner's bill? There is growing agreement many would in order to put the shut down issue behind them and move on to the federal debt limit which may be a much tougher fight.
The bottom line: Any budget bill that attempts to end Obamacare outright has no chance of enactment. In fact, Obama's health care law, as it becomes increasingly more unpopular, may be more politically valuable in the short-term as an issue to defeat scores of vulnerable House and Senate Democrats in 2014.
And do not underestimate the likelihood of its growing unpopularity as businesses large and small are forced to scale back on hiring to avoid its costs, jobs become even harder to come by and the declining economic life of our nation deteriorates even further.
Meantime, the latest accounting from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office tells us that the government's debt rose by $750 billion -- that's three quarters of a trillion dollars -- in just the first 11 months of fiscal 2013.
Even with the automatic sequester budget cuts, we're still spending far more than our income, driving ourselves deeper into debt that is approaching $17 trillion.
Obama's anti-growth economic policies, his muscular expansion of the government's work force and a multitude of new regulatory agencies are adding to the bills he's been racking up. By the end of this year, he will have added more than $6 trillion to the public debt.
In 1980, I wrote Fat City that detailed more than 100 departments, agencies and programs that were wasting our money. If they were shut down tomorrow, few would ever notice they were gone.
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