The White House and congressional Democrats are balking at the idea, floated by House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday, that changes to the president's signature health care law should be on the table during lame-duck talks over taxes and the deficit.
An administration official told The Huffington Post that the president would oppose involving the Affordable Care Act in the negotiations taking place to stave off the so-called "fiscal cliff." A top Senate Democratic aide called the idea "absolutely" a non-starter.
"And they know that, so its counterproductive to even offer it," the aide added.
Another Senate Democratic aide did concede that some changes to the Affordable Care Act could be made as part of a grand-bargain deal that would replace the expiring Bush-era tax cuts and the $1 trillion in spending cuts included in the sequester. But those changes would not alter the purpose and reach of the law "in any meaningful way."
The comments came in response to an op-ed, written by Boehner for the Cincinnati Enquirer, in which he declared that the Affordable Care Act "has to stay on the table as both parties discuss ways to solve our nation’s massive debt challenge."
The speaker has made this point before, holding 33 votes during the past two years to wipe the law from the books. His appetite for this specific fight seemed to wane a bit after the 2012 elections, when he told ABC News that Obamacare was now the law of the land. But he quickly walked back that remark, and his op-ed ends the talk, for the time being, that House Republicans have given up on the idea of full repeal.
Still, it's difficult to see Boehner and company making much progress on this front. For starters, he held more leverage in prior showdowns with the White House than he does now. And while he was able to secure minor changes to the law before it was passed, he swung and missed on the bigger items, like the individual mandate.
Boehner's office declined to provide specific information about his plans beyond what he wrote in the Enquirer, but he could make another play at that provision during the lame-duck talks. He could end up targeting another subject of Republican griping: the independent advisory board assembled to keep Medicare costs low. But it seems more likely that he will aim for lower-hanging fruit, such as Medicaid spending or insurance tax credits.
The speaker may find those elements of the law easier to change, but the politics won't be simple. As the first Senate Democratic aide emailed: "Pushing this will just show that Republicans are ignoring the writing on the wall and are profoundly un-serious about getting a deal to avert the cliff."