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Conservatives Huddle At Strategy Meeting


While many Americans take time off this weekend, a group of conservative activists are meeting in Florida. Americans for Prosperity, a group that was founded by David and Charles Koch, is holding its annual summit in Orlando. That gathering includes several rising stars among conservatives - Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Texas Senator Ted Cruz. But in terms of issues, NPR's Greg Allen reports, one seems to stand above all - stopping Obamacare.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: It's the first time the conservative confab has been staged outside of Washington. This one was held at the Universal theme park in Orlando. Outside, you could hear screams from roller coaster riders. Inside, it was different kind of excitement.

TIM PHILLIPS: Well, good afternoon, fellow freedom fighters.


ALLEN: Americans for Prosperity president Tim Phillips shaped much of this weekend's program to focus on the economic success he said Republican governors like Rick Perry of Texas and Rick Scott in Florida are having with low-tax, low-regulation policies. Meanwhile, with a nod to nearby Disney World, Phillips accused President Obama of visiting his own private theme park - Fantasyland.

PHILLIPS: In the president's Fantasyland, Americans still want Obamacare.

ALLEN: More than 1,500 activists from around the country came to see and hear some of their rising leaders, people like Louisiana's Bobby Jindal. Jindal talked about his state's efforts to reform education, including a state-funded voucher program recently challenged by the Obama administration. Jindal said he was angry at the Justice Department and at Attorney General Eric Holder.

GOVERNOR BOBBY JINDAL: There is a rebellion brewing in these states. There are Americans standing up for freedom, the Tenth Amendment, and we will not be beat.

ALLEN: Another Republican governor, Florida's Rick Scott also talked about his feuds with the Obama administration, such as when he rejected billions of dollars in stimulus money for high-speed rail. Scott's running for re-election next year and he had a jab for one of his possible opponents - former Republican governor - now Democrat - Charlie Crist.

GOVERNOR RICK SCOTT: My predecessor made a name for himself by hugging President Obama's stimulus spending - and even hugged the President.


ALLEN: That hug, seen over and over again in political ads, helped Marco Rubio defeat Crist in the race for the Republican Senate nomination and helped push Crist out of the party. But Scott was reminded he was talking to a crowd of well-informed and vocal activists who like his position on some issues, but not on others, like new national educational standards called Common Core.

SCOTT: For example, we care about education in our state.



ALLEN: Tea Party groups are pressuring Scott and governors in other states to put Common Core on hold. When he spoke, Florida Senator Marco Rubio came in for his own heckling from audience members who yelled out: no amnesty. Rubio is one of the sponsors of a Senate bill that overhauls immigration and includes a path to citizenship for those here illegally. Rubio has been working to rebuild bridges with Tea Party groups over his immigration position. And yesterday, he went to an issue popular with conservatives. When Congress takes up a short-term budget in a few weeks, Rubio says he hopes to cut all funding for the Affordable Care Act.

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Now, I only have one vote. But I will tell you two things about the short-term budget. I will not vote for a short-term budget that doesn't adhere to budget cuts that have already been agreed to. And I will not vote for any short-term budget that spends one single cent on Obamacare.


ALLEN: That's a move also supported by Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who'll speak at the conference later today. Even Cruz concedes Republicans lack the votes now to do it. But if they are successful, it risks a stalemate over the budget that would lead to a government shutdown. That's a prospect many conservatives welcome. James Maier, a college student from Indianapolis says, he thinks a showdown with the President would energize Republican voters.

JAMES MAIER: It would be popular with the conservative base of the Republican Party. You'd actually see a resurgence. Too much - way too much emphases is put on moderates when they should be focusing on the conservative, slash, libertarian base.

ALLEN: In the 90s, when the Republican House faced off against Democratic President Bill Clinton, the government shutdown was seen as hurting the GOP politically. A new government shutdown may play out differently. With Obama's signature healthcare law on the line, conservatives at this conference say they're willing to take that chance. Greg Allen, NPR News, Orlando.


SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.