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GOP strategists differ on wisdom of voting to eliminate Obamacare financing

| Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013, 9:48 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Republicans will proclaim solidarity on Friday when the House of Representatives votes to defund the 2010 health care law. Don't be fooled: The party is bitterly divided about how and when to get rid of the Affordable Care Act.

The struggle over tactics could well determine who controls the Republican Party — and, just as important, its image — for years to come.

One contingent is actively promoting the vote, which will strip money for implementing the law, while keeping the government running after the new fiscal year starts on Oct. 1. But a lot of prominent Republicans — including, at one time, much of the House Republican leadership — have tried mightily to avoid such a vote.

They know that the Democrat-run Senate and President Obama would never agree, setting the stage for a shutdown of most government services when the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. They know polls show more Americans would blame them than the Democrats for a shutdown.

None of that stops the no-compromise crowd. It's fueled by well-financed, well-organized conservative groups, some of whom vow to challenge any Republican incumbent who wavers. Their nemeses are Republicans in swing congressional districts and senators from diverse states, usually with long histories of winning general elections.

“Over the long term, this (split) is a really big deal,” said Stuart Rothenberg, a nonpartisan political analyst. “You not only have a formula for more gridlock, but for Democrats to run against Republicans as extremists.”

They're quickly doing just that. Senate Majority Harry Reid, D-Nev., branded House Republicans as “anarchists.” On Thursday, the Democrats' Senate campaign committee started a campaign, “GOP Shutdown Watch,” that intends to flood social media with news about Republican behavior.

If congressional Republicans don't stand firm against health care, Republican voters will just stay home in 2014, warned David Bozell, executive director of ForAmerica. “These guys fear nothing more than losing their seat,” he said.

His allies tend to be lawmakers from staunchly conservative districts in states such as North Carolina, Texas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Florida and Georgia.

Incumbents are nervous about the clout these diehards could have. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, for instance, faces a primary challenge from businessman Matt Bevin. Asked about the health care law, McConnell railed against it but would not say what he might do once the House bill reaches the Senate.

“We will react to what they (the House) send us and be happy to vote on it at that point,” he said.

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