House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and defenders of the health care reform law unearthed an unexpected and temporary ally Monday night: Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC).
Politics makes strange bedfellows. But few bunking arrangements are stranger than this.
To be clear, there aren't many in Congress who have more antipathy for the health care law than Foxx. In fact, at a meeting of the House Rules Committee Monday night, Foxx could barely hide her contempt for the health law.
"It is an abomination that this bill was passed," scoffed Foxx.
But for a few moments, Foxx, and all seven of her Republican colleagues on the Rules Committee formed a short-term vanguard to preserve the touchstone of the Democrats' legislative agenda last year.
Here's what's going on:
On Tuesday, the House plans to debate a bill to fund the government through September. Republicans aim to use the measure to pare at least $100 billion in spending out of this year's budget.
There is no provision more onerous to conservatives than the health law. So if the GOP is set to cut spending, why not shave the money set aside to implement the health law, too?
Rep. Steve King (R-IA) planned to do just that, which would in turn cripple all government operations devoted to executing the health law. In other words, if there's no money, the government can't carry out the policy.
And that's when King ran into a buzz saw run by Virginia Foxx and the rest of the Republicans on the House Rules Committee.
All of those Republicans want to upend the health care law just as much as King does. But not at the expense of corrupting House rules that govern how to handle the spending measure on the floor.
House rules prohibit lawmakers from "legislating" on a spending bill, such as curbing funds for health care. And in order for King to get his way, the Rules Committee would have to "protect" King's amendment and give it "special treatment" when GOP leaders summoned the spending resolution to the floor Tuesday.
Foxx and her GOP colleagues weren't about to break the rules just to stuff the health care law.
"You are asking us to change the rules here in the Rules Committee," lectured Foxx when King implored the panel to grant a wavier to his amendment. "What that does is open us up to the same accusations that were made of our colleagues across the aisle over the last four years in terms of them not being fair to us."
"Abuse of process" was one of the GOP's biggest grievances with how Democrats ran the House. Republicans blasted Democrats for altering bills late at night without getting ample time to consider changes and accused their counterparts of trying to "bend the rules" to pass controversial measures.
"We did not want to behave as the Democrats did," said Foxx in a Monday night interview. "We don't like having to tell a Republican member no on an issue."
So Republicans faced a conundrum: go for the big win and trash the health care law or face the same criticisms they leveled at Democrats.
Try as he might, King couldn't find a sympathetic ear among Rules Committee Republicans.
"Please, please, please, don't do this," said freshman Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC) to King. "But we will find a way to accomplish this."
Freshman Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) was circumspect.
"Thanks for your courage," Webster said to King. "It takes courage to stand alone."
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) watched each of King's GOP colleagues rebuke him from the other side of the Rules Committee dais. McGovern later mused that "this has been one of the most fascinating discussions I've witnessed in this committee."
But King would certainly find no compassion from McGovern.
"I think you're being told in a very polite way, ‘no,'" McGovern told King. "There are eight of them (Republicans) and only four of us (Democrats). So I can't help you."
So the irony? On Tuesday, the Republican-controlled House will consider dozens of amendments to either restore certain programs or perhaps cut even deeper. But King's plan won't be in order, even though almost every Republican in the joint wishes it could be.
Still, all is not lost for health care reform opponents. Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT) is trying to artfully draft an amendment which could strip the health law of its coffers. But prospects for Rehberg's effort remain murky as he is still awaiting a cost analysis from the Congressional Budget Office.
Furthermore, while Republicans structured the debate of the spending bill to allow an "unlimited" number of amendments, offering an amendment could prove complicated.
On Tuesday afternoon, a House reading clerk will begin reciting all 359 pages of the spending bill. And if lawmakers are on their game, they can offer amendments, so long as it pertains to the section of the bill that the clerk is reading. In fact, lawmakers have to present each amendment nearly the precise clause, sentence, comma, jot and tittle where it is relevant to the bill. Otherwise, the House will disallow it. This process could take hours as Tuesday's session is expected to bleed deep into the night. And this exercise is scheduled to run through Thursday.
"Buckle your seatbelts," warned House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-CA) of what to expect on the floor over the next few days.
It's anybody's guess whether Republicans like King or Rehberg will find a way to strip the health law of funding. But the law's most ardent defenders can rest easier for at least another day.
"We didn't do the health care bill because we were masochists or I wanted someone to throw a brick through my window or threaten my life," said Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY).
Which proves one thing. Democrats like Slaughter know how tough it was to pass the health care law in 2009 and 2010.
And now Republicans like King are learning how tough it is to undo it.