Dan K. Thomasson: Battle within GOP likely to continue in 2014

01/03/2014 12:00 AM

01/02/2014 5:17 PM

Republicans need to ride into the midterm election year on an issue other than the Affordable Care Act, which more and more looks like a dead horse not worth beating as political campaigns go.

That’s not to say that flaws in Obamacare won’t offer some fodder for election-eering. But the opportunities for repeal are next to nil.

Even if the Democrats should manage to lose the Senate next fall, doing away entirely with the giant health reform bill would face doubtful success. A two-thirds’ vote of both houses of Congress needed to override a sure veto would be nearly impossible to achieve, especially with the outcry one might expect from those already benefiting from the program.

The smart money in the Republican firmament seems willing to bet on another strategy, shying away from the most radical tea party approaches and coming back toward solid conservatism that has a more general appeal. That would include convincing voters that economic problems and immigration and tax reform can be achieved without disruptions that seem to want to turn the clock back a century or so.

The question becomes now whether the GOP’s still-powerful fringe groups understand that winning a primary is not the end goal. That may be more difficult than it seems considering more moderate candidates are facing tough primaries from the outer reaches.

There are some signs, however, that the stranglehold that a relative few hard-nosed ideologues have had on the Republican caucus, particularly in the House, has been loosened by GOP leadership apparently tired of being portrayed as puppets and cowards and obstructionists held hostage at the expense of rational government. That includes House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Boehner has made it clear he is weary of the allegations and has served notice on the outside groups that he is the master of the House, or caucus, if one prefers. It doesn’t mean, however, that he has given up his conservative credentials, merely that he is more willing to practice the art of compromise rather than be bullied into stances that are not compatible with winning.

The new year, on the other hand, will see several of the Senate’s tea party heroes such as Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas preparing for a potential entry into the presidential sweepstakes of 2016. Will they effectively compete with Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey or Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin? Perhaps in the primary states, but even that speculation is premature at this early date.

Meanwhile, what’s on the table for 2014? The answer is the same panoply of issues that have occupied the past year – immigration, sequestration, the debt ceiling, Afghanistan troop withdrawal and so forth. The focus is likely to shift to reforming rather than annihilating the health reform act. Just too many Americans already are beginning to benefit from having some sort of insurance protection to do away with it despite the awkwardness and embarrassment of the rollout. Some Republicans counsel that it would be better for the party to lead the charge to try to correct the flaws. Others contend that such a move would play into the hands of Democrats who would claim overall credit for the program.

But if you are betting on a functional approach to politics and government from Capitol Hill to the White House, it’s probably still a long shot.

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