The GOP's latest brawl: To shut down or not to shut down?

There are "more effective ways" to replace "Obamacare" than threatening to shut down the government, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Sunday on "Face the Nation." In fact, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., opined Thursday, holding hostage a continuing resolution to fund the government is "the dumbest idea I've ever heard of."

And thus crumbles another of the three legs of conservatism.

It's the latest thread undone in the Republican Party's unraveling, following last week's mass gang-up on Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., whose libertarian-inspired, non-interventionist foreign policy, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said, could lead the GOP to its own version of "the anti-war, left-wing Democrats of the 1960s that nominated George McGovern and destroyed their party for 20 years."

In tatters over national security, the Republican stool is looking flimsy these days: Social conservatives enter 2016 between a rock and a hard place, following two landmark rulings from the Supreme Court that scored seeming victory for the gay-rights movement. And despite pleading from the GOP "old guard" to play nice with Democrats over looming budget negotiations, younger tea party types in Congress are rallying behind an initiativeto block any government funding bill that puts money toward the implementation of President Obama's signature healthcare law.

Lawmakers must pass a funding bill by Sept. 30 or risk letting parts of the government shut down.

Defending the shutdown option - spearheaded by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah - Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, another of the five members of the Senate Tea Party Caucus, said defunding Obamacare would be an option if not for too many "scared Republicans." Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., perhaps the grandfather of the establishment GOP, shot back in an interview released Friday: "It's been a long time since I've been scared."

"We need to be careful in the way we treat each other," McCain said. "I have been as ferocious a fighter and, I think, as partisan, as strong, as anybody. But I really try hard not to get personal. Debate on the issue as hard as you can, but don't say that your opponents, people who disagree with you, are scared."

Working with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on bipartisan appropriations bills, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press": "I appreciate Sen. Cruz's passion, his intent to want to defund Obamacare. I'd love to do it, too, but shutting down the government and playing to the hands of the president politically is not the right thing to do. Plus, it's going to do great harm to the American people if we pursued that course."

Ryan, who authored a budget that Republicans scrambled to support in the spring but backed off just last week over state program cuts, even seemed to soften his position on healthcare.

"Look, we all, Republicans, want to repeal and replace Obamacare - so it's not a matter of whether or not we want to get rid of Obamacare; we do," he assured Sunday. But, he went on, "with the government shutdown, so to speak, we're talking about discretionary spending, government agency budgets, but it doesn't affect entitlements. Obamacare's an entitlement, you know, like Medicare and Social Security is. And so, the entitlement continues on, even under a government shutdown scenario. So it's just not that simple and easy.

"...Rather than sort of swinging for the fences and trying to take this entire law out with discretionary spending," he continued, "I think there are more effective ways of achieving that goal. We think that we can do better by delaying this law. We've already had votes to delay other parts of it. Democrats have supported us in that."

In a USA Today op-ed out Sunday night, Lee countered Rubio's point, arguing that the report from the Congressional Research Service claiming a government shutdown would not defund Obamacare "answers a question no one is asking - we all know the government will be funded; the question is whether or not we fund ObamaCare.

"Congress controls the power to appropriate funds, so defunding ObamaCare is simple," Lee continued. "The House can add language to the next spending bill, known in Washington as a 'continuing resolution,' that says Congress will fund all the functions of government - the military, veterans benefits, Social Security, entitlement programs, etc. - except ObamaCare."

More fiscal fights lurk on the horizon: Sometime this fall, Congress must raise the debt ceiling or risk letting the nation default on its debt. And just about everyone in Washington wants to replace the steep, ongoing sequestration spending cuts with "smarter" fiscal policies - though what would constitute "smarter" policies, neither side seems to know.

Lee has collected more than a dozen signatures from GOP colleagues to bolster his position on Obamacare, adding heft to any leverage he may or may not have during hasty budget talks when Congress returns for nine days in September. President Obama, though, who talked budget with eight Republican senators Thursday, has some leverage of his own, with conservatives worried about looking reckless with U.S. credit.

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    Lindsey Boerma is senior video producer for