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Why did tea partyers surrender? Because January will be different, they say. (+video)

The government shutdown ended and the debt limit was raised without Republicans getting anything in return. But two things will have changed when the fight resumes next year, tea party lawmakers say.

By Staff writer / October 17, 2013

Rep. Raul Labrador (R) of Idaho (l.), seen here on Capitol Hill in February, is one of the tea party House members who sees better days ahead in the fight against Obamacare.

Susan Walsh/AP/File

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Washington

Tea party Republicans emerged from the budget battle whose terms they had defined weary, battered, and with nothing to show for the fight beyond having fought it – and for some, that’s a victory.

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After 16 days of a partial government shutdown, Republicans failed to force the Democrat-controlled Senate and the White House to defund, delay, or even discuss the president’s signature health reform, known as Obamacare. 

But the takeaway for a core group of conservative lawmakers is that the next spending fight, on track for mid-January, will play out on more favorable terms for hardline conservatives.

Be sure, for them, this isn't over. Not by a long shot.

Their argument, which was taking shape even as their failure to extract concessions from President Obama this week was becoming plain, turns on two points. They believe the more time Americans have living with the consequences of health-care reform, the more sympathetic they will be to efforts to defund it. And they argue that by early next year, many of the Republicans who criticized their hardline approach may be facing well-funded 2014 primary opponents from the right, and may feel compelled to switch their allegiances.  

“The debt will be bigger and Obamacare will be more unpopular,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R) of Ohio, at a luncheon for conservatives hosted by the Heritage Foundation on Day 16 of the shutdown.

By Jan. 15, when a new stopgap government funding measure runs out, Americans will have had another two months to see how the Affordable Care Act plays out. If glitches in the rollout aren’t resolved, and if people lose their employer coverage, face higher insurance costs, or come to believe that the new law is costing good, full-time jobs, they will see this week’s lost battle in a new light, tea party lawmakers say.

If the Affordable Care Act doesn’t live up to expectations, then it will be Democrats, especially in red states, who will be on the defensive, along with moderate Republicans seen as missing in action in recent weeks. Looking back, the tea party’s loss over the debt limit could look heroic, such conservatives say.

“People will see that every promise President Obama made about Obamacare was false,” said Rep. Raul Labrador (R) of Idaho, also at the luncheon. “In the last election, we didn’t fight, and now we’ve showed the American people that we’re willing to fight, even if it doesn’t look good today.”

It’s a view that many senior Republicans, openly engaged in a widening civil war within the GOP, describe as wrongheaded and dangerous to what’s left of the Republican brand.

“In democracies, the majority sets the agenda, and the majority said through the ballot box [in 2012] they don’t want Obamacare defunded, and I respect their opinion,” says Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, who, as the GOP presidential nominee in 2008, campaigned against health-care reform and lost.

“If [tea party Republicans] try to shut down the government again, it won’t be greeted with great approval,” he adds.

In a floor speech before the Senate vote, tea party Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas, who worked with House hardliners on this strategy, blasted Senate Republicans for “directing their cannon fire at House Republicans” on defunding Obamacare.

House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio and other GOP leaders had tried to convince the hardliners in the GOP caucus that their party would be damaged by a government shutdown, and that lawmakers should settle for funding government and raising the debt limit without conditions, then fight to take back the Senate in 2014 and the White House in 2016. He offered Republicans a 41st vote to defund Obamacare, not linked to funding the government.

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