The Movement to Defund Obamacare, Explained

The activists pushing the latest Tea Party cause can't explain how their effort to stop health-care reform could ever possibly succeed. Will they shut down the government?
Justin Hayworth/Associated Press

The Tea Party has a new obsession: killing Obamacare by stripping the funding needed to implement the law. Thirteen Republican senators have signed on to the effort, which would likely lead to a government shutdown, since Democrats and President Obama are unlikely to agree to gut the president's signature domestic achievement.

Many Republicans are deeply skeptical of the idea, fearing it is yet another suicide mission by the far right that will hurt the party politically. Republican Senator Richard Burr, for example, called it "the dumbest idea I've ever heard of." The Beltway conventional wisdom is that this idea is doomed to fail.

But activist groups say their members are passionate about the idea, and they plan to keep the heat on politicians to join the fight. The groups include Heritage Action, which is spending $550,000 on online ads in Republican districts and holding rallies in nine cities; an event in Dallas featuring Senator Ted Cruz drew 1,000 attendees on Tuesday. The Senate Conservatives Fund is airing radio ads against three non-supportive Republican senators, including Burr. Meanwhile, two more national grassroots organizations, the Tea Party Patriots and ForAmerica, are teaming up on their own six-state tour and online ad campaign, which involves calling eight Republican senators "chickens" for refusing to support defunding.

Like many in D.C., I have struggled to understand what the endgame is of all this. To get some answers, I spoke to the campaign manager of ForAmerica's "Defund Obamacare" campaign, Scott Hogenson. This is an edited transcript of our interview.

What exactly is the point of this campaign?

What we're trying to do is raise awareness and get people to take action informing their members of Congress that they don't want to pay for Obamacare. We want to encourage Congress to listen to their constituents, who don't want to pay for this train wreck.

When you get outside the Beltway, people are really furious about what they're seeing happening. That's why we're taking this effort to the states where specific senators and congressmen are. The "Exempt America" tour will be going to six states starting next week -- Kentucky, Ohio, Texas, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia -- and we're getting an awful lot of feedback from people saying, "How can I help?" The message for the lawmakers in those states is, people don't want to pay for this train wreck, and it's up to you to ensure that they don't.

And what would you like to see Congress do in response to that message?

Mind you, we don't advocate the passage or defeat of legislation or the election or defeat of individuals for public office. But what we would like to see happen is a continuing resolution passed that funds the entirety of the federal government, with the lone exception of Obamacare. It's broken, it's a train wreck, and people shouldn't have to pay for it.

What do you say to all the politicians and pundits who say that the president is never going to sign a measure that guts his biggest legislative achievement -- that this isn't realistic, that it just won't work?

Well, what will work? What will work? So much of the discussion of this has centered around the process. I haven't been in Washington that long, but one thing I've noticed is that people love to talk about process, they love to talk about tactics, and they tend to lose sight of the larger policy ramifications. We are already seeing the ramifications of Obamacare -- full-time employees being demoted to part-time, premiums going up -- this is a policy that was ill-conceived right from the get-go, and it's being implemented in a weird, destructive, ad hoc manner. It's pretty apparent it's a very bad thing.

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Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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