“Republicans are 100 percent united in their support for repeal of Obamacare, and the Leader is a co-sponsor of a bill to defund it and a bill to repeal it,” Don Stewart, communications director for McConnell, told CNSNews.com in an email.
The continuing resolution, or CR, is legislation to fund the government for a certain period in the new fiscal year, which starts on Oct. 1. It is must-pass legislation, meaning Congress and the president must come to an agreement on how much to spend and for how long by Sept. 30 or the government would shut down for lack of congressionally authorized funding.
Lee wants the CR to include language prohibiting any further funds for Obamacare, particularly the individual mandate, which kicks in on Jan. 1, 2014. A separate, distinct bill to repeal Obamacare does not have the same budgetary bite as the CR, which must be passed to keep the government operating.
Don Stewart said, “The Senate Republican Conference is united in its goal of a full repeal of Obamacare. Sen. McConnell is a co-sponsor of a bill to defund the law and a bill to repeal it.”
“Members are having multiple and ongoing conversations about how best to repeal and defund the law—but all with the same goal,” he said.
Senator Lee is circulating a letter to his Senate colleagues that he plans to send to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) calling for defunding any further implementation of the health care law.
At one time the letter reportedly had as many as 17 signatures. Now the number is down to 12, according to Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard, citing McConnell as one reason Senators are backing away from Lee’s plan.
Top senators, including John Thune (R-S.D.) and Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), had signed on. But by Wednesday, five senators who had supported the letter initially, had “asked to have their names removed,” including Cornyn.
Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) have also reneged their support.
“This wasn’t a coincidence,” Hayes wrote. “Sources tell The Weekly Standard that Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell made clear he didn’t like Lee’s approach and the fact that media reports were suggesting Republicans were eager for a shutdown.”
“Upon reflection, the senator became convinced that the implicit threat of a shutdown is not the most effective way to influence the final result,” Ryan Taylor, communications director for Senator Wicker, told CNSNews.com.
“He is a proud cosponsor of multiple legislative efforts to stop the Obamacare train wreck, and he will not stop pursuing those efforts,” he said.
Sara Lasure, a spokesperson for Senator Boozman simply said, “Those reports are incorrect,” when asked if Boozman was told to back away from the letter after first signing on.
The Club for Growth, a conservative economic group, also pointed to McConnell.
“We are disappointed by rumors that Senate Republican leadership is pressuring Senators not to sign Lee’s letter or to remove their names – they should instead encourage others to sign on,” said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola in a statement Wednesday.
“If Senator McConnell is committed to defunding ObamaCare, then he should sign the Lee letter and promise not to support a continuing resolution or any budget that funds Obamacare,” he said.
While the status of Lee’s push is uncertain, a similar effort is underway in the House, being led by a letter from Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.).
As of Thursday, the House letter had 65 signatures and “members are still signing on to support the effort,” Emily Miller, communications director for Meadows, said in an email.
Those signed on in the House may face opposition from the GOP leadership, as Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) said no decisions have been made on how to handle the Affordable Care Act’s funding in the continuing resolution to fund the government past Sept. 30.
Boehner said the House will do “everything we can to make sure this doesn’t really go into effect,” on Thursday, but when asked by CNSNews.com if that includes defunding the law in the CR, he would not say.
"No decision has been made about how we're going to deal with the CR next month, in September,” he said.
Boehner has been very critical of calls to shut down the government before, insisting that is not in the Republican’s plans either over the increasingly unpopular health care law or fights over raising the more than $16 trillion debt limit.
“The Democrats think they benefit from a government shutdown,” Boehner said in 2011, in the midst of a budget battle over the debt ceiling. “I agree.”
On the Senate floor on Thursday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said it is “unreasonable” not to shut down the government—but to fund the implementation Obamacare.
“Recently I’ve made the statement that I don’t believe that we should pass a short-term budget here that pays for Obamacare,” he said. “And since that time I have heard the comments of some that that is an unreasonable request.”
“But I want to outline today just one more reason why I think it is an unreasonable request to actually fund it,” Rubio said. “Because of the impact that Obamacare is having on real people, particularly those in the middle class.”