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Coats among key players in GOP shutdown recovery

Congressmen and senators on both sides of the aisle will have a credibility problem on Obamacare and a potential delay. The only ones who are sitting pretty are the GOP House leadership and moderate Republican senators who argued all along against a defund strategy, against a shutdown and for more modest “asks.”

On the shutdown squad, both House and Senate hardliners have a tasty problem, which will likely be solved (they imagine) by revisionist history. Remember how things actually went down: It was defund or bust. In the retelling, look for them to say that what they really wanted was a delay of the individual mandate (untrue) and what they did was get everyone focused on Obamacare (a gross exaggeration).

Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner had a smart take about the shutdown, speculating that they never intended it to get as far as it did. (“This may be the moment the Tea Partiers realized they are playing with live ammo. To use another analogy: Tea Partiers were the dog that finally caught the car and didn’t know what to do with it.”)

Whether that is true or not, proffering themselves now as the guys who got the ball rolling on a delay of the individual mandate is too tempting to pass up, I suspect. Indeed, there are already whispers of that excuse on talk radio.

The folks with the real problem, however, are the Democrats who weeks ago were willing to shut down the government rather than change Obamacare in any respect. The Republican National Senatorial Committee is having a field day reminding whoever will listen that the Democrats have done a 180-egree turn. In his latest e-mail blast, communications director Brad Dayspring asserts, “Now, just weeks after ObamaCare’s long awaited launch, Democrats are running like hell and are on the verge of making the biggest and most politically motivated flip-flop in recent history. Why? Because their political strategists are begging them to, as Dana Bash reported.” Pointing to the most vulnerable Dems up in 2014, he declares, “They’ve seen Mark Pryor’s numbers tank, and know that others like Mary Landrieu, Mark Begich, Kay Hagan, Bruce Braley, Gary Peters … are facing similar. Now that their own political careers are on the line, Democrats are rushing to cover their backsides. So far they have all supported extending enrollment, but they have been much more vague about what they think should be done about the tax penalty.” He claims it will be “perhaps the biggest mass flip/flop in political history.”

Indeed with Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Richard Blumenthal calling for a delay of the mandate, the pressure is on the White House. Republicans would be smart to do two things.

First, make certain the budget talks are manageable, discrete and don’t try to reach for the outfield seats. Even a bunt – a minor fix in entitlements, something on energy, etc. – would be a plus. But diverting the country to more shutdown theatrics is the last thing the GOP needs. Second, there is already a vehicle to do what the skittish Dems are proposing. Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., previously introduced an individual mandate delay with about 40 co-sponsors. Now is the time to try to get that to the floor and force a vote. Are Dems once again just grandstanding or will they join in now? And if so, will they if needed to override a White House veto?

It’s time to sniff them out. Republicans should focus on getting the facts and making Obamacare, not themselves, the center of attention.

Jennifer Rubin writes the conservative perspective at the Washington Post’s Right Turn blog.