WASHINGTON — Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham Wednesday bluntly warned House Republicans that backing any deal to re-open the government and raise the nation's debt ceiling that does not include defunding Obamacare is unacceptable — and they could pay the political price.
"Anything that comes out of this has to address the core fight, which is Obamacare," Needham told reporters during a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
Needham, whose group has been central to drawing the conservative hard line, ruled out any agreement that includes other top priorities for conservatives — including tax reform and the Keystone XL pipeline — if it doesn't also deal with Obamacare. "It's not addressing the core fight here … [the] only acceptable way out is funding the government without funding Obamacare."
Needham also warned that anything short of a full repeal or defunding of Obamacare would be unacceptable to the group, and dismissed out of hand the notion of accepting a repeal of the law's unpopular medical device tax.
"It is incredible that a time that people are losing their health insurance … that the only solution would be to give a break to the medical device industry," he said. "[It's] a laughable example of the kind of cronyism that goes on" in Washington.
Although Heritage Action is not directly involved in the debt ceiling fight, Needham said the group would not object to a short-term extension if Speaker John Boehner looks to give himself more negotiating time.
"We'd give the speaker some flex on a short-term debt limit increase … but any [continuing resolution] that doesn't address Obamacare is something we'd be against," he said, though the group would be opposed to something long-term. "We'd be opposed to anything that would be considered a long-term debt limit increase, anything that goes beyond the 2014 election."
Needham downplayed his organization's role in the upcoming 2014 elections. "We're not looking to do electoral accountability. We're looking to do policy accountability. We want an informed electorate that knows what their elected officials are doing in this town," Needham said.
But Heritage Action's scorecard on how lawmakers vote has become not only a touchstone for grassroots tea party activists, but something of a Sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of Republicans, particularly in the House. The threat of a poor score — and its electoral implications — has clearly spooked Republicans who have routinely bucked their leadership over the last three years to remain the group's good graces.
But Needham laid the blame at the feet of Republicans who he argued played to their constituents' desires during their elections and now find themselves in the position of having to deliver on their pledges. "I think the reason we're in the situation we're in is because a lot of politicians were making promise to their constituents" that weren't actually willing to follow through on, the conservative activist argued.
John Stanton is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New Orleans. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.
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