Republicans shift focus away from Obamacare toward fiscal issues

Reuters

* "Obamacare" fades in Republican rhetoric over debt limit

* Some Republicans welcome return to deficits, spending

By David Lawder and Caren Bohan

WASHINGTON, Oct 9 (Reuters) - In a shift some Republicanshope will strengthen their hand in the fight over the U.S. debtlimit, some of the party's leaders in the House ofRepresentatives are playing down demands to weaken "Obamacare"and focusing instead on calls to rein in deficits.

The emphasis on tackling long-term debt and deficits wasevident in opinion pieces published on Wednesday by two of themost prominent House Republicans, Majority Leader Eric Cantorand Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee and aformer vice presidential candidate.

Ryan's piece in the Wall Street Journal failed to mentionObamacare, the word Republicans coined to describe PresidentBarack Obama's signature healthcare reform law, while Cantor'sarticle in the Washington Post made only a passing mention as hecriticized Obama for refusing to negotiate over the debt limit.

Ryan proposed that Republicans and Democrats work out a planto curb costly entitlement programs and overhaul the tax code aspart of negotiations to end the U.S. government shutdown andraise the country's borrowing limit.

"This isn't a grand bargain," Ryan wrote, but would be a wayto "get a down payment on the debt and boost the economy."

The effort to scuttle Obama's healthcare law was at thecenter of the Republican strategy for weeks during the run-up tothe shutdown that started on Oct. 1.

In exchange for the funding needed to keep governmentagencies open, Republicans first sought to deny money for thehealth-insurance reforms, saying later they would settle for adelay of the program.

Neither is acceptable to congressional Democrats or Obama.

CONSERVATIVES CRITICIZE SHIFT

Responding to Ryan's opinion piece, Amanda Carpenter,speechwriter and senior communications adviser to anti-Obamacareleader Texas Senator Ted Cruz, tweeted: "There is one big wordmissing from this op-ed. It's start with an O and ends withBAMACARE."

Jenny Beth Martin, National Coordinator for Tea PartyPatriots, one of several national groups that campaigned to"defund Obamacare," also criticized Ryan for the failure tomention the health care law.

"We must remember the reason we are fighting and remainunited in our opposition to Obamacare," Martin said in astatement.

But some in the party insist it is time to move on to morefertile ground, and say the budget is the obvious place to gofor debt-limit talks.

Representative Lee Terry, an Iowa Republican, saw it as a"natural" migration as the debt-limit deadline approaches. "Itwas a good try," Terry said of the effort to undermineObamacare.

While there may be an opportunity to push for small changes,such as a repeal of a medical-device tax used to help fund thehealthcare program, he added, "I think we've run the course onObamacare."

The linking of Obamacare to the budget fight was a strategychampioned by Cruz and pushed by a vocal faction of House ofRepresentatives conservatives, led by members backed by thesmall-government Tea Party movement.

Ryan, Cantor and Boehner embraced the strategy onlyreluctantly from the outset.

Some conservatives are now seeking to rebrand the campaignagainst Obamacare as part of a broader attack on entitlementspending that should be cut in any talks over the debt limit.

House Speaker John Boehner continues to mention it in hisstatements to the press, including on Wednesday. "Instead ofmaking it easier for people to get health insurance, it is goingto be lot tougher," Boehner he said on the House floor. "What atrain wreck."

Scott Garrett, a senior Republican on the House BudgetCommittee, told CNN the Affordable Care Act, as Obamacare isformally known, was "a brand-new entitlement to the tune off $2trillion. So all those things need to be on the table."

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has warned U.S. lawmakersthat unless Congress raises the debt ceiling by Oct. 17, thecountry could be at risk of a first-ever default.

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