Heritage Action Bails On Debt Ceiling Fight

Oct 09, 2013 | Updated Oct 10, 2013

WASHINGTON -- A crack appeared Wednesday morning in the conservatives' united front against President Barack Obama in the budget-and-borrowing crisis of 2013.

Michael Needham, CEO of the powerful group Heritage Action, said that he opposed conditioning a crucial vote to increase the government's borrowing authority on the group's main goal: defunding Obamacare.

Under questioning at a breakfast with reporters, hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, Needham, a product of the Stanford Business School, conceded that failure to raise the debt ceiling would indeed disrupt the global economy.

"I'm sure the markets will react negatively," he said, even if, as he suggested was possible, the Treasury could "prioritize" interest payments to foreign bondholders.

Rather than try to hold the debt ceiling vote hostage to the defunding of Obamacare, he said, the better "tactical" course for Heritage and other key foes of the administration is to continue to focus on annual spending -- and on allowing the full opening of government only if Obamacare is dismantled.

"No, we should raise the debt limit," he said, though he added that he would oppose an increase that extends until after the 2014 election, which is Obama's preferred outcome.

But with regards to the government shutdown, Needham insisted that his group would continue to oppose any continuing resolution -- no matter how short in duration -- that did not defund the health care law.

"My tactic is to focus on the CR," he said.

Matt Kibbe, the president and CEO of the influential conservative group FreedomWorks, also said in a Wednesday interview with The Huffington Post that the debt ceiling should be raised in order to keep the Obamacare fight focused on the continuing resolution.

"This is an emerging set of opinions that looks to be where everybody's gravitating to," he said.

Heritage Action, funded by small donors, corporate allies and wealthy individuals Needham refused to name -- other than the Koch Brothers, who he said had given $500,000 -- has become a powerhouse in a new generation of conservative groups.

It operates on a model developed by Evangelical activists, producing informative -- and politically inflammatory -- "scorecards" that rate lawmakers' ideological purity based on their many votes.

The group organized a series of public events and town halls this summer to oppose Obamacare, which the group regards as the next camel's nose under the tent of a bankrupt entitlement state.

Needham thinks that Social Security needs "fundamental" change and that other entitlement programs are unfairly burdening Millennials.

But he indicated at the Wednesday breakfast that his disdain for Obamacare did not extend to the debt ceiling vote.

That could give Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) at least a smidgen of room to maneuver if and when they decide to strike an overall deal: the White House could get a "clean" debt ceiling vote (though of short duration) and the GOP could get a concession or two on the continuing resolution to fund the government's annual spending.

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