The House Freedom Caucus demonstrated what it is to have a political backbone on Monday evening. After a meeting with Vice President Mike Pence, Freedom Caucus members told reporters that they will not support any Obamacare repeal short of the 2015 plan that would have gutted the Medicaid expansion, some Obamacare taxes, the Obamacare subsidies, and the individual and employer mandates.
Not even 24 hours later, the caucus' red line was undercut by House leadership, with Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. (F, 51%) declaring that the House would continue to pursue a "step by step" approach to repeal — a far cry from the "root and branch" rallying cry Republican leaders used during the Obama years.
As Freedom Caucus ink slinger Matt Fuller reported at The Huffington Post, "Now that conservatives are demanding the repeal meet the 2015 standard, it could be even more difficult for GOP leaders to find coalitions in the House and Senate.” Hence, a "root and branch" Republican leadership cave from repealing Obamacare "root and branch" to now a "step by step" approach.
Fuller thinks that the hard line the Freedom Caucus is taking will kill the repeal effort. And, knowing Republicans, he's probably right.
But it's the right thing for the Freedom Caucus to draw the line somewhere, and it's not even that provocative of a line. As Conservative Review reported at the time, the 2015 Obamacare repeal would have still left 82 percent of Obamacare intact, including most of the taxes and provisions like the Medicare payroll tax, limits to Heath Flexible Spending Accounts, and an annual fee on health insurance providers.
So to the extent that Republicans shrink away from a substantive Obamacare repeal, it's not on the Freedom Caucus’ name and shoulders. It's the problem of party leadership and moderate Republicans growing skittish about following through on something they promised the American people they would do if granted the power.
Referring to skittish Republicans who already voted for something similar in 2015, Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho (A, 93%) told Fuller: "They voted for it already, so, be consistent."
Maria Jeffrey is a correspondent for Conservative Review. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTJeffrey.