The head of Heritage Action — activist arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation and primary advocates for a government shutdown in lieu of funding Obamacare — on Wednesday made a surprising comment to Fox News. "Everybody understands that we’ll not be able to repeal [Obamacare] until 2017," Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham said. That's a rather remarkable switch, completing the circle of logical incomprehensibility that's been the organization's hallmark since the summer.
He's right, of course. Any repeal of Obamacare will not happen as long as Barack Obama is president of the United States. "We have to win the Senate and win the White House," Needham said to Fox, as reported by BuzzFeed. But, then, any attempt to defund Obamacare suffers the same flaw, as we pointed out in September. Everybody understands that you can't get Barack Obama to sign a bill gutting Obamacare.
Yet that was the case Heritage Action spent the summer making, touring the country, Sen. Ted Cruz in tow, arguing that the House could refuse to pass any funding bill that provided funding for Obamacare, and forcing Obama to reject the proposal. There was never any clear political tactic that suggested this would happen; Cruz eventually distilled the essence of his strategy to two words: "Don't blink." It was at best flawed and at worst — and most likely — a cynical attempt to bolster the conservative bona fides and pocketbooks of the organization and the senator.
After Needham's 2017 remarks, Heritage Action spokesman Dan Holler responded to an incredulous tweet from NBC News' Mike O'Brien by attempting to distinguish between what Needham acknowledged on Fox and the organization's strategy to date.
trying to delay implementation of a law that doesn't work -- much diff than full repeal @mpoindc— dan holler (@danholler) October 16, 2013
Holler is correct: trying to defund a program and repeal it are different in concept. But they both rely on the same mechanism. Pass something in Congress, get it signed by the president. Different plans sharing the same Achilles heel.
As recently as Tuesday afternoon, Heritage Action weighed in to defend the flawed defunding strategy — a strategy that has grown only more obviously flawed as the weeks have passed and Republican poll numbers have continued to sink. As the House was trying to figure out a compromise proposal that would allow it to lead on a resolution to the shutdown and default threat, Heritage Action put out an alert demanding conservatives oppose a measure that didn't significantly alter Obamacare. Shortly thereafter, the House deal collapsed, for which The Washington Post credits Heritage Action: "The death knell for the legislation came as the conservative group Heritage Action announced that it opposed the plan and urged lawmakers to vote against it." But why?
Then there's the final irony. Obamacare, as is by-now well-known, derived from the successful implementation of an individually mandated health care program introduced by then-Massachussets governor Mitt Romney. That plan was hailed as a conservative initiative meant to address dropping rates of health care coverage. And it was promoted heavily by the Heritage Foundation.