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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid meeting with the press last Thursday.
Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid meeting with the press last Thursday.

Obamacare encore

Healthcare | As lawmakers head home for the long congressional recess, they will find themselves talking with constituents about the healthcare law—again

On the first day of August and the last day before the Senate adjourned for a five-week recess, discussions got a little heated on Capitol Hill despite the lower-than-normal humidity outside.

“Have everyone sit down and shut up,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid blasted to a noisy chamber that historically has been called the world’s greatest deliberative body. “It’s unfair … it’s just not polite.”

On the other side of the Capitol, through the building’s majestic rotunda, House Speaker John Boehner hoped “the August recess will have our members in a better mood when they come back.”

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Don’t bet on it. Lawmakers may enjoy the luxury of not having to report back to Congress until Sept. 9, but when they do return to work they will face major battles over federal spending. The government will reach its borrowing limit early this fall while funding for the federal government ends on Sept. 30.

That means lawmakers will have to debate another increase in the nation’s debt ceiling—something that has become an all-too-frequent tradition of late—as well as agree on a budget for funding the government when the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. Fiscal conservatives likely will clash with the White House over spending levels: President Barack Obama will want more to spend on his programs while most Republicans will want to keep spending low as a way to tackle the nation’s debt and deficit problems.

Until then both parties will use the August recess to make their pitches to the public back home. Winning the debate outside of Washington in the summer’s final weeks may determine how the debate goes inside Washington after Labor Day.

And, like the summer of 2010, this political recess mainly could be about one thing: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. That summer, Tea Party-led furor at town hall meetings across the country over the newly passed healthcare law helped fuel a Republican takeover in the House that November. Now with major parts of the law slated to take effect in January, Republicans are hoping for a repeat uproar among voters. But is it too late?

On Thursday, while Reid was lecturing inside the Senate chamber, a group of senators who do not think it is too late joined conservative groups for an anti-Obamacare rally outside the Capitol.

“I hope this law never goes into effect,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. “I don’t think it can be fixed. … But if, God forbid, it does, every single one of us will have to go home and answer to people who ask, ‘Why did you let this happen?’ And I for one, and I know my colleagues as well, are not prepared to go home and tell people, ‘Well, we tried, but we couldn’t.’ We have to go home and say, ‘We did everything we could. We took every step available to us.’”

Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, as well as representatives from groups such as Tea Party Patriots, ForAmerica, Club for Growth, Citizens United, FreedomWorks, and the Family Research Council joined Rubio.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, stressed that mandates in Obamacare discriminate against religious businesses, non-profit organizations, and colleges by forcing them to support insurance coverage of contraceptives, including abortifacients.

“The greatest threat to our faith, our families, and our freedoms is Obamacare,” he said, “and so we are saying it must be stopped.”

To that end, senators like Lee, Cruz, and Rubio have devised a strategy of encouraging lawmakers to oppose any budget bills that provide funds for the implementation of Obamacare. Refusing to pass a budget that includes dollars for Obamacare could set up a government shutdown battle if Congress can’t agree on a budget by Sept. 30.

But these three senators, each in their first term and each proud to label themselves as outside of the Washington political establishment, believe that defunding Obamacare in this fall’s short-term budget may be the last best chance to stop this law.

A coalition of 50 social and fiscal conservative groups have sent a letter to Speaker Boehner arguing that the Republican-led House should pass a bill that keeps the government funded but provides no cash for Obamacare. Heritage Action for America will be promoting this view by hosting town halls in nine cities across the country this month.

“The only way we win this fight is if the grassroots rise up and demand of our elected representatives that they stand up and do the right thing,” said Cruz, who will make an appearance at one of the Heritage events. “Success depends upon hundreds of millions of Americans standing up and demanding this.”

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