Republicans remain as confused and divided as ever over how to resolve their fiscal showdown with President Barack Obama.
Ten days into the government shutdown and a week before the Oct. 17 deadline to raise the debt ceiling, House Republican leaders will meet with Obama at the White House … but it appears the GOP no longer knows what it wants. Is the endgame to undo Obamacare? Balance the budget? Tackle entitlement reforms? Limit abortion rights? Or just hurt the president politically?
Some Republicans have resigned themselves to the likelihood that they won't be able to undo or delay Obamacare as a condition of funding the government. To conservatives, that's nothing less than apostasy and surrender.
Other party members wish to focus on entitlement and tax reforms as their goal in the fiscal talks instead of the president’s health-care law. And some still want to divide funding the government and raising the national debt into separate questions.
In short, the Republican Party doesn't know what it wants from the White House and Senate Democrats, with the GOP's indecision only complicating the resolution to the budget standoff.
It would seem that after the GOP's repeated attempts to append a repeal or delay of the Affordable Care Act to legislation to fund the government failed, Republicans would have conceded defeat -- and moved on.
But every time Republican leaders suggest they've finally given up their fight -- at least in this short-term spending battle -- they find themselves returning to the issue of Obamacare, the party's live-wire issue.
Conservatives expressed their dismay that Rep. Paul Ryan's op-ed in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal made no mention of the issue, and Paul's GOP colleague from Wisconsin, Sen. Ron Johnson, has taken heat from the right for allegedly dressing down Sen. Ted Cruz at a closed-door meeting.
"The only acceptable way out of this is some sort of deal that funds the federal government without funding Obamacare," said Michael Needham, the CEO of the conservative group Heritage Action, according to the Weekly Standard.
"Not once did Mr. Ryan mention the program that is hurting hard-working Americans," said Jenny Beth Martin of the Tea Party Patriots. "We must remember the reason we are fighting and remain united in our opposition to Obamacare."
So House Speaker John Boehner emerged this afternoon to reassure restive conservatives that the GOP leadership is still committed to fighting over Obamacare.
"Our message in the House has been pretty clear: We want to reopen the government and provide fairness to all Americans under the president's health-care law," Boehner said Wednesday on the House floor. "How can we tax people for not buying a product from a website that doesn't work?"
But still other Republicans have suggested the fight has moved beyond Obamacare.
“I think any effort we can put forth to try to stop Obamacare is worth it," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told the conservative site Newsmax last week. "It's pretty clear now that that's not going to succeed now in the Senate, where we have a math problem.”
Even Koch Industries -- the company run by conservative mega-donors Charles and David Koch -- sent a letter to Congress saying it has taken “no position” on defunding the health-care law as part of the government shutdown fight. Instead, it says, the company wants Congress to focus on reining in spending, NBC’s Michael Isikoff reports.
And Ralph Reed, the head of the Faith & Freedom Coalition wrote Boehner on Wednesday to “strongly urge [him] to include language that protects religious freedom and ends federal subsidies for abortion under Obamacare as part of any Continuing Resolution or increase in the borrowing authority of the federal government.”
And Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Tuesday on Fox News: "We Republicans have to have a plan rather than the fool's errand of repealing Obamacare."
McCain’s choice of words -- “fool’s errand” -- is what many inside the GOP had originally said about the quixotic defund-Obamacare strategy Cruz began in the summer.