With U.S. government reopened, conservative groups dig in

Reuters

By Gabriel Debenedetti

WASHINGTON, Oct 17 (Reuters) - The conservative wing of theRepublican Party spent no time licking its wounds after failingto roll back Obamacare as part of the last-minute fiscal deal,and pledged on Thursday to redouble its fight.

"Giving up on the Obamacare fight is giving up on theAmerican people. We're not going to give up," declared an emailsigned by Heritage Action executive Michael Needham.

Heritage Action was among a handful of groups leading theconservative Tea Party movement's campaign to defund Obama'ssignature healthcare law - a push that shut down the federalgovernment for 16 days, nearly resulting in an economicallydisastrous default on U.S. debt.

In the end, Republican House of Representatives Speaker JohnBoehner blinked, and allowed a vote on a Senate plan thatincluded a short-term increase in the debt ceiling and governingfunding through Jan. 15. The measure got 82 Republican votes -enough to secure its passage.

The Club for Growth, another staunchly conservative group,said it will direct it efforts through its political actioncommittee.

On Thursday it endorsed Mississippi Republican State SenatorChris McDaniel in his race against Senator Thad Cochran, whovoted for the fiscal deal and is up for re-election next year.

It is the third primary challenge to sitting lawmakers thatthe group has endorsed, and the second against a Republican.

"We'll have more," Club for Growth President Chris Chocolatold Reuters in an interview. "The last couple weeks may havedefined our opportunities a little bit better."

The government's partial shutdown ended shortly aftermidnight on Thursday, capping a standoff that left hundreds ofthousands of federal employees without work.

The final agreement, crafted by Senate leaders DemocratHarry Reid and Republican Mitch McConnell, set up a budget fightthat will likely stretch into early 2014.

The deal included no measures to roll back Obamacare, andRepublicans widely viewed that as a defeat. But as the partytries to regroup, some leaders criticized the groups leading theeffort to defund the president's program.

'RADICALNESS'

Republican Senator Orrin Hatch told MSNBC on Thursday thatthe Heritage Foundation - where Heritage Action is based - was"losing (its) reputation because of some of this radicalness."

Grover Norquist, the anti-tax advocate and president ofAmericans for Tax Reform, said that proponents of defundingObamacare "hurt the conservative movement, they hurt people'shealthcare, they hurt the country's economic situation, and theyhurt the Republican Party."

Norquist, who had urged a one-year delay in Obamacare asrecently as August, said the defunding movement had gone toofar.

But Chocola kept up his criticism of Obamacare and theRepublican leadership for ultimately agreeing to a deal.

"I don't know if it was a deal, it was an outcome. And itwas a bad outcome," the former Republican representative fromIndiana said.

Obamacare, he said, is "nothing more than a new entitlement.... It's unaffordable, bad healthcare - which is a badcombination."

Chocola's Club for Growth has been the largest donor toRepublican Senator Ted Cruz, whose 21-hour floor speech helpedset the stage for the partial shutdown.

Heritage Action spokesman Dan Holler offered a similarassessment, saying his group will consider runningadvertisements if it sees opportunities to attack Obamacare.

He said the group intends to press lawmakers to explaintheir votes in favor of funding the law.

"If you're a Mark Pryor in Arkansas or a Kay Hagan in NorthCarolina, you had your chance" to oppose the deal, he said,referring to two Democratic senators up for re-election nextyear in conservative states.

"It's a liability for them, and it's something they're goingto need to explain," Holler said.

Heritage Action is the political wing of the HeritageFoundation, the Washington-based conservative think tank run byformer Tea Party Republican Senator Jim DeMint.

On Tuesday it helped scuttle a planned House vote bythreatening to highlight lawmakers' votes on the group's closelywatched scorecard. All but two of the 25 members with a score ofleast 90 percent on its card voted against the final deal.

Chocola said he was not satisfied with the vote, or even theoptions that were presented.

"Our position was, 'we're going to fight for the best thingoffered.' And the only thing offered was Ted Cruz's position (todefund Obamacare)," he said.

The groups have not unveiled specific plans for the nextbudget fight.

Holler of Heritage Action said it was "too early to sayexactly where the legislative leverage may exist in the comingmonths or what approach(es) would maximize that leverage."

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