Several hundred Tea Party activists gathered outside the Capitol to declare war against Obamacare on Tuesday, even if it meant shutting down the government. But the battle may be over before it even begins.
Shortly before the "Exempt America" rally, which was sponsored by a variety of conservative groups, news broke that House Republican leaders were working on legislation to avert a shutdown. Under the new proposal, the Senate would have to vote on defunding the health care law, but the House would still fund the government in the short term even if -- as expected -- the Senate ultimately kept the law intact. The reported decision came after weeks of dire warnings from moderate Republicans, especially in the Senate, that forcing a shutdown over the Affordable Care Act would backfire politically an achieving its goals.
Several of the speakers at Tuesday's rally, which included Sens. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Mike Lee, among other Republican rising stars, condemned the emerging deal in their remarks. Conservative groups leading the effort to defund the bill issued statements slamming it as well.
Congressman Tim Huelskamp of Kansas railed against "another vote that doesn't count." Cruz denounced "procedural tricks" from House Republicans, saying it would allow Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to sidestep the health care fight.
"Let me ask you all a question: Is an empty symbolic vote enough?" he asked, to a resounding "No!" from the crowd.
Paul acknowledged in a brief speech that defunding or repealing the health care law might prove too daunting a task, but nonetheless called on Republicans in Congress to keep up their efforts.
"We may not win the ultimate battle, but we won't know unless we begin and fight the battle," he said. "I say fight on, don't give up, this battle can yet be won."
The House has voted 40 times already on repealing the Affordable Care Act, but the most recent fight is considered a higher stakes fight because of its timing. On Oct. 1, the law's health care exchanges will begin their first open enrollment period, allowing individuals to buy subsidized insurance even if they have a pre-existing medical condition. As a result, future efforts to damage the law may be a harder sell as they would entail cutting off coverage for the millions of Americans projected to use the exchanges in the first year alone.
"What we're seeing now in Washington, I would describe as the frantic last gasps of the extremists as they see yet another good piece of the Affordable Care Act roll out -- and probably the biggest one to roll out so far," Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said at a morning press conference prebutting the Tea Party rally.
Despite the news that House Republican leaders may temporarily back away from a shutdown fight, there still will be more opportunities for conflict over the health care law in the coming months. According to National Review, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor plans to demand a one-year delay to the Affordable Care Act's implementation in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. Obama officials have said they will flatly refuse to negotiate over the debt limit, setting up another potential standoff.