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updated: 10/5/2013 4:42 PM

Second Tea Party-backed lawmaker backs off health care fight

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Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON -- A second House Republican with ties to the limited-government tea party movement said he's willing to support a spending deal that doesn't include dismantling the nation's health care law.

Rep. Blake Farenthold, a Texas Republican elected in 2010, said Saturday he'd support an agreement to end the government shutdown and lift the debt ceiling if it included revisions to U.S. tax law, significant changes to Medicare and Social Security and streamlined regulations.

Farenthold, 51, is the second Tea Party representative in two days to back off the fight over President Barack Obama's health care law that has shut down the government for five days. He joins Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla.

"The president seems unwilling to give an inch on Obamacare, so, all right, where can we find other reforms?" Farenthold said in an interview at the Capitol just after a vote on giving furloughed workers retroactive pay. "If we can make the same or bigger difference doing something other than Obamacare, I don't see why we wouldn't do it."

Other lawmakers backed by the tea party movement, including Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, are refusing to budge on their Obamacare stance.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner said Friday the way to end the government shutdown would be for Democrats to negotiate and accept changes that would produce "fairness" under President Barack Obama's signature health care law, also known as Obamacare.

Rep. Raul Labrador, an Idaho Republican and leading voice in the fight against Obamacare, said a change to the law "has to be on the table."

"A one-year delay is still reasonable to ask for," Labrador said in an interview.

The views from Ross, 53, and Farenthold echo that of a growing chorus of House Republicans pushing to craft a broader agreement that doesn't include the Affordable Care Act as the cornerstone. That fight has caused a prolonged stalemate and is now bleeding into a debate over the nation's $16.7 trillion debt limit, which must be raised before Oct. 17 to avoid a U.S. default.

"You're starting to see a shift in the thinking among members of the conference from all factions," said Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La. Boustany said he would back a deal that didn't delay the health care law's individual mandate -- a requirement that Americans who lack insurance purchase it through government-run exchanges -- if it also repealed a tax on medical devices, led to entitlement cuts and created a process for tax revisions.

Ross, ranked among the House's most conservative members by both the Club for Growth and the American Conservative Union, said he shifted his position because the shutdown hasn't resulted in changes to the Affordable Care Act, which started Oct. 1, the same day government funding ran out. The shutdown also could hurt the party, he said.

"We've lost the CR battle," Ross, referring to the continuing resolution to authorize government spending, said in an interview. "We need to move on and take whatever we can find in the debt limit."

Ross took a hard-line stance just last month, saying that Republicans who took office in 2010 "were elected to repeal and replace Obamacare."

"We've got to offer an alternative for the sake of our credibility," he said then.

Now, Ross is pushing for other changes, such as means- testing for Medicare payments and switching to a formula that may make Social Security beneficiaries' cost-of-living increases rise more slowly. Those would be "major reforms" that should win Republican votes.

"I'm not questioning my leadership. I'm just suggesting that we need to take stock of where we've come and realize what it's going to take for where we want to go," Ross said, adding that he still favors changing the health care law.

Ross said Republicans can claim victory for recent spending cuts, which he said are the first consecutive-year reductions in more than 50 years.

"We've got to be realistic about that and not go so far as that we do things that shut down the government to a great degree or default on our debt," Ross said. "There's room to make sure we continue on our course and not have catastrophic events."

A spending deal would clear the way for compromises on other issues, such as immigration policy and revising the U.S. tax code, he said.

"There are a whole lot of other issues that haunted us at the election other than Obamacare," Ross said. "I would hope there's at least enough of us to constitute a majority of reasonable people that realize we need to give and take."

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