Georgia’s House, Senate GOP clash

Daniel Malloy Washington Insider

WASHINGTON — Georgia Republican U.S. Sens. Johnny Isak-son and Saxby Chambliss are no friends of the Affordable Care Act.

They’ll vote to strip its funding. They’ll “scream and holler about it,” in Chambliss’ words.

But they have no interest in risking a disruptive partial shutdown of the government or a breach of the debt ceiling to do it.

Almost as typical as jousting between Republicans and Democrats in D.C. are fights between the House and Senate. The Georgia delegation this year has seen the rift grow between its House and Senate Republicans, starting with a split on the New Year’s “fiscal cliff ” deal, and the “de-fund Obamacare” movement is putting it on display again.

Rep. Tom Graves of Ranger led an effort to spurn House Speaker John Boehner — one of Chambliss’ closest buddies — and his strategy on extending government funding. Most of the Georgia House delegation signed on, but Isakson said he wished Boehner’s original proposal had been sent over.

Boehner had sought to give the House one vote on a “continuing resolution” that the Senate could divide in two: One to fund the government into December, one to defund the health care law nicknamed Obamacare. Presumably, the Senate would reject the latter, but it would give vulnerable Democrats a tough vote.

Instead, the House on Friday sent the Senate a spending bill that forever defunds the health care law and cannot be split up.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, whose Democrats control 54 votes, can stage a 60-vote motion to proceed on the House bill — which Senate Republicans support — then remove the “Obamacare” language with 51 votes.

Republican hopes to sink that vote rely on four red-state Democrats seeking re-election next year to back a defunding effort, and then they would need one more. And then there’s that pesky veto threat from President Barack Obama.

Isakson said he would like to see the law weakened or eliminated, but until Republicans take over the Senate or public outcry sways a large number of Democrats, it won’t happen.

“If you just back away from the politics and take an unvarnished look at the rules and the Constitution, unless you have a break in political loyalties by the majority party of the Senate — which again is the hope right now — you don’t have the mathematics or the ability to pass what you want to pass or override a veto of the president,” Isakson said.

Many House Republicans consider such talk to be weakness. After passing their bill Friday morning they gathered for a rally, cheering like a football team getting riled up for the second half.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor took the unusual step of calling out the four vulnerable Senate Democrats — Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, Arkansas’ Mark Pryor, North Carolina’s Kay Hagan and Alaska’s Mark Begich — by name, followed each time by a roar from his colleagues.

Minutes earlier, Lawrenceville Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall parried repeated questions from a Washington Post reporter about whether he would vote for a continuing resolution that did not defund the health care law, if one came up for a vote.

“You see what has happened here in this caucus over the last 2½ weeks?” Woodall said. “To have a discussion of a ‘clean CR’ seems very strange to me.”

Talk of a shutdown or debt ceiling breach has typically revolved around short- and longterm spending levels. Isakson’s biggest lament about the healthcare-law sideshow is that it’s distracting from major budgetary reforms.

“This is like doing calisthenics when you really ought to be running a marathon,” he said. “A lot of people would rather talk about something that makes headlines than something that makes sense.”

Daniel Malloy covers Washington for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. His column appears Sunday.To reach him, email dmalloy@ajc.com.