GOP Debate: Is Obamacare Fight Worth A Government Shutdown?
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Congressional Republicans find themselves bitterly divided during their August recess over Obamacare. What they don't agree on is how to end it. They've tried dozens of times to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Now, some want to block funding for the health care law in a stopgap spending bill. That bill must be approved next month to prevent an October 1 government shutdown. Other GOP lawmakers say that won't work and could backfire. NPR's David Welna reports.
DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: One of the first questions Texas House Republican Blake Farenthold got at a recent open house in his Corpus Christi office was about Obamacare, specifically, would the second-term congressman vote to defund it in next month's temporary measure to keep the federal government running. The reply from Farenthold, who's had strong Tea Party backing, was just a tad hesitant.
REPRESENTATIVE BLAKE FARENTHOLD: I'm not sure how effective defunding will be, but I'm going to do my best. It's my responsibility as a member of Congress to mitigate the damage from what I think is a bad law. So if defunding is a way to do that, I'm going to vote to defund it.
WELNA: House GOP leaders fear doing so could lead to a government shutdown that would be blamed on Republicans. But defunding advocates say public opinion is on their side. Michael Needham heads Heritage Action which unveiled a new poll today done in 10 Republican-leaning districts. Needham said it shows nearly three-fifths of those surveyed approve of a shutdown, described in the poll's question as a temporary slowdown in non-essential federal government operations.
MICHAEL NEEDHAM: What the voters are demanding, what they've been demanding for years, is political courage. And that's been lacking in Washington, D.C., and I think that we've been very pleased with what we've seen at the town halls.
WELNA: Indeed, earlier this month, at the same Kentucky church picnic where Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell launched his reelection campaign, Tea Party-backed challenger Matt Bevin chided McConnell for not signing a letter 13 other GOP senators have signed that promises to defund Obamacare in the stopgap spending bill.
MATT BEVIN: We hear a lot of empty rhetoric from Mitch McConnell about ending Obamacare. Obamacare is unpopular. Stop talking about yanking it out root and branch and start voting in the U.S. Senate to kill it by defunding it. Stand with Senator Mike Lee. Be a man. Stand up and put your money where your mouth is.
WELNA: But veteran Kentucky political analyst Al Cross predicted that the letter pledging to defund Obamacare would not get McConnell's signature.
AL CROSS: I can't see him signing on to that because he surely believes, as most Republicans do, that would be political suicide to shut down the government. But he's got to find a way to finesse that.
WELNA: After weeks of dodging questions about where he stood on defunding Obamacare, McConnell yesterday did tell WYMT-TV in Corbin, Kentucky, that using a big spending bill to defund the program was not the way to go.
SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: The problem is the bill that would shut down the government wouldn't shut down Obamacare. Most of it is permanent law and not affected by that.
WELNA: That puts McConnell at odds with the Tea Party-aligned senators behind the defunding pledge letter. One of them is Texas Republican and presidential hopeful Ted Cruz. Here he is last week on addressing a crowd of conservative religious activists in Ames, Iowa.
SENATOR TED CRUZ: They say this is a fool's errand. You're tilting at windmills. Let me tell you, if we could hold 41 Republicans in the U.S. Senate or 218 Republicans in the U.S. House, we can defund Obamacare.
WELNA: When Cruz spoke, it was the day after Obama roundly rejected any effort to defund the law. That's been his signature domestic accomplishment.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The idea that you would shut down the government unless you prevent 30 million people from getting health care is a bad idea.
WELNA: But Republicans who endorse defunding insist it won't be their fault if the government does shut down. Here's Florida's Marco Rubio, another presidential hopeful, late last month on the Senate floor.
SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: The way I see it is if we pass a budget that pays for everything except for Obamacare and the president says he'll veto that, it is he who wants to shut down the government.
WELNA: And that makes Heritage Action's Needham confident the list of senators signing the defunding letter will only lengthen.
NEEDHAM: Our expectation is that when people come back in September, they'll be rushing to get on that letter.
WELNA: One who likely won't be is GOP Senate leader McConnell. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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