Diehard conservatives were not pleased. Should most of the health care law survive, said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., anyone pushing such a deal “would seriously jeopardize their future chances of becoming elected leadership in the House.”
Establishment Republicans, though, believe the hardliners cost the party a huge opportunity to rail against Obamacare.
The day the law’s new health exchanges began operation, Oct. 1, was also the shutdown’s first day. The exchanges were plagued by embarrassing glitches – but the chaos was dwarfed in the media by the shutdown. Obama held an unusually lengthy news conference a week later, and virtually all the questions concerned the shutdown, not the exchange mess.
Democrats understand they can push too far. Obama’s Gallup approval rating is down to 41 percent, and while the tea party movement may be weakened in Washington, it still has clout in the heartland. Roughly half the 232 House Republicans were first elected in 2010 or 2012, and dozens owe their seat to the movement.
Many are in congressional districts redrawn to their liking since the 2010 census. Savvy, well-funded groups help them, and they enjoy a significant media megaphone to spread their views.
The risk for Democrats and like-minded Republicans is that they’ll create the kind of establishment steamroller that helped spur the tea party movement four years ago. And their big cause, weakening Obamacare, will remain alive.
Martin called suggestions that the movement’s reputation is at stake “bizarre,” and noted that “the reason we got involved (in the current controversy) was Obamacare.”
Chances are Obamacare, along with opposition to what she calls amnesty for undocumented immigrants, will be her message months from now, and a big audience will listen. But they may not be influencing policy in Washington.