Was a shutdown the right approach? GOP still at odds

An end to the government shutdown and debt ceiling crisis appears to have done little to heal the divisions within the Republican Party as they prepare for budget negotiations with Democrats in the coming months.

GOP lawmakers are still at odds over whether the strategy to shut down the government over Obamacare was a good one, how to battle the law going forward, and what they want out of a long-term budget.

"I am confident that the party of Ronald Reagan will come back strong. We'll get a positive agenda. We'll get an agenda that unites the party, and we can move forward. I am absolutely confident of that," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on CNN's "State of the Union."

There are a number of issues to overcome first.

The divisions are particularly exemplified with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who helped precipitate the shutdown strategy with a 21-hour floor speech he delivered against the health care law in September. His fellow Republicans remain highly critical of the strategy as an impossible feat.

"The tactic of defunding the government, unless [Mr. Obama] repealed his signature issue, was as poorly designed as Obamacare care itself, almost," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on CBS' "Face the Nation." Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, for his part, pledged that there would not be another government shutdown because he didn't view it as good conservative policy.

"I don't think a two-week paid vacation for federal employees is conservative policy. A number of us were saying back in July that this strategy could not and would not work, and of course it didn't," McConnell said.

Cruz, on the other hand, sees his fellow lawmakers as responsible for the strategy's failure and the ensuing deal that yielded little for the GOP. "I think it was unfortunate that you saw multiple members of the Senate Republicans going on television attacking House conservatives, attacking the effort to defund Obamacare, saying it cannot win, it's a fools errand, we will lose, this must fail. That is a recipe for losing the fight, and it's a shame," he said on ABC's "This Week." He added later that he's not looking for "99 new friends" in the Senate, so he doesn't much care what his colleagues think.

Despite the GOP's precipitousdrop in the polls, Cruz wouldn't rule out another shutdown to stop the Affordable Care Act from being implemented.

"I would do anything, and I will continue to do anything I can to stop the train wreck that is Obamacare," he said. "What I intend to do is continue standing with the American people to work to stop Obamacare, because it isn't working, it's costing people's jobs, and it's taking away their healthcare."

Others see the persistent and narrow focus on the ACA is insufficient for the problems facing the country.

"I think focusing on Obamacare takes you away from the larger picture," said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., on NBC's "Meet the Press." "We have $128 trillion worth of unfunded liabilities and the total net worth of our country is $94 trillion and we have another $17 trillion worth of debt."

He added later in the show that the fight over Obamacare "took us off message," and said responsibility for that lay with "outside interest groups and a few individuals within our party that took advantage of that situation."

"Tactically it was a mistake to focus on something that couldn't be achieved," said former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on ABC's "This Week."

These kinds of disagreements could make it difficult for the Republicans to present a unified fight during the upcoming budget negotiations between a group of bipartisan lawmakers, led by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Mark Warner, D-Va., both said on "Face the Nation" that a broad budget deal could include infrastructure spending, tax and entitlement reform, and a partial or full replacement of mandatory spending cuts that are part of the Budget Control Act.

"I believe that the single biggest thing we could do for our economy, single biggest job creator would be to put together a bigger bargain that includes revenues, that includes entitlement reforms," Warner said. "We all know at the end of the day, Republicans are going to have to give on revenues, Democrats are going to have to give on entitlement reform."

Graham agreed that there is bipartisan support for an infrastructure bill, and said President Obama should give Democrats some "political cover" to reform entitlements.

"If the president would give cover to Democrats to enact[Consumer Price Index] changes that he's already embraced, then people like me would agree to bring in revenue," Graham said. "Not by raising taxes, by flattening out the tax code and bring in some repatriated corporate earnings at a lower rate." That money could be applied to infrastructure, and to replace parts or all of the sequester cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act, he added.

But moments earlier on "Face the Nation," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said his "bottom line" in negotiations is to ensure that Democrats don't break the required spending caps.

"At a minimum, we ought not to bust the caps that are actually reducing government spending and we ought not to raise taxes. At a bare minimum, it seems to me, that's the best way to go forward as we go into the discussions that we will have in January and February," McConnell said.

There's another point of disagreement over whether Republicans should be calling for the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius over the problematic rollout of the health care exchanges. "Absolutely," said Cruz. Others, including Sens. McCain, Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., were more measured, putting pressure on Sebelius to testify before Congress. On "Fox News Sunday," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., predicted the secretary would ultimately appear before Congress.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.