Congressman Randy Hultgren says he is deeply torn between two mandates from his constituents: Fighting Obamacare and keeping the federal government open for business.
He may be forced to choose between them this week.
Conservative media have initiated a full-court press on Republican lawmakers in recent weeks to take a hard line on defunding Obamacare or face retribution at the polls. That has Republicans in districts with a notable Tea Party presence, such as Hultgren's 14th District in Illinois, struggling with how they will vote in the latest showdown over the Affordable Care Act.
Republicans could force a partial government shutdown Tuesday by refusing to authorize funding for day-to-day operations unless a pending funding bill removes money needed to implement Obamacare.
Hultgren said that decision has him being pulled in two opposite directions.
"The two things I've heard from my constituents are: 'Don't shut down the government, and don't have (Obamacare) go forward,'" Hultgren said during a recent meeting with the Daily Herald Editorial Board. "And we've even seen from the administration that this isn't ready."
Hultgren said House Republicans have taken about 40 different votes to defund Obamacare. Several have resulted in either parts of the law being deactivated, or have revealed implementation problems:
The insurance program for long-term care, known as the CLASS Act, was repealed last year when the administration agreed it could not be financially viable.
Democrats have even complained there is no committed budget to run the federal insurance exchanges.
The insurance mandates for large employers was delayed until 2015 when the administration said it wasn't prepared to enforce the provision.
More than 1,200 waivers from the elimination of annual caps on benefits have been granted.
A new reporting requirement for small businesses involving the filing of a 1099 form to the IRS for nearly all transactions of more than $600 was repealed after wide criticism.
Those are among the reasons Hultgren believes the overall law is not viable. He also joined several of his GOP allies last week in calling for an amendment to Obamacare that would ensure the federal government can't force individuals, charities or businesses to buy insurance coverage that includes items or services they have moral or religious objections to, such as abortion. Hultgren wants that amendment included with any bill involving a continuing resolution to fund the government and/or expansion of the debt ceiling.
During the interview, and in a recent speech on the House floor, Hultgren said he's been unable to help constituents find answers to questions about how they will be affected by the law, even after turning to the people the government is training to answer those questions.
"We don't know how the exchanges are going to work in Illinois," Hultgren said. "People ask a lot of questions, and it is difficult to answer when we have many of the same questions they have. At a minimum, I think it ought to be delayed not only for big corporations but for individuals and families."
Hultgren said there are only two opportunities for Republicans to throw up significant roadblocks to Obamacare's implementation. One is in the current fight over a continuing resolution to fund the federal government's day-to-day operations. The other will be another push by Democrats to raise the debt ceiling.
"The tactic is let's use every opportunity to delay and push this off further to get more questions answered," he said.
That will be Hultgren's foundational stance on Obamacare moving forward, he said. But he acknowledges that letting the government shut down won't achieve the long-term goal of defunding Obamacare.
"No one wins with a government shutdown," Hultgren said. "We realize that a government shutdown doesn't defund Obamacare. We need agreement on a continuing resolution."
Republicans can find a better alternative to Obamacare that may even include several provisions of the president's law, he said. For instance, the provision that allows children to stay on their parents' insurance until age 26 is good. He also agrees people with pre-existing conditions can't be shut out of the insurance marketplace.
"We're not saying our current system is working well, either," Hultgren said. "Yes, there are parts of Obamacare that are very good ideas. But there are a lot of things that are inappropriate and don't really address the biggest problem, which is the high cost of health care in this country."
Hultgren said he did not see a national mandate in the 2012 elections in favor of Obamacare. Rather, he pointed to Republicans winning several key seats and his own re-election as proof the American public is having second thoughts.
"I don't think it's our responsibility to just accept it," he said. "The American people elected us in 2012 running on the votes I've already taken and the votes I said I would continue to take to stop this law."