Sen. Ted Cruz has doubled down on his long shot bid to defund Obamacare, even though Senate Democrats are highly unlikely to approve a short-term spending deal this September that impugns President Obama’s signature domestic achievement.
In an interview that aired Sunday, the Texas Republican admitted he lacks the votes in the Senate needed to force a government shutdown, but he said a “grass-roots tsunami” of opposition to the Affordable Care Act over the next few weeks could change that.
“And at that point, Republicans have to do something we haven’t done in a long time: stand up and win the argument,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We have to stand up and say no.”
Democrats and the Obama administration say they are committed to the health care law and that it is already showing signs of promise, with select states reporting proposed insurance rates that are lower than expected.
The administration is working feverishly to set up state-based health exchanges, where qualified consumers without employer-based health coverage may buy insurance through the help of government subsidies, in time for the start of open enrollment on Oct. 1.
But Mr. Cruz said Mr. Obama’s law is a “job killer” that has forced businesses to drop coverage or shift workers to part-time status. He said these changes have an outsized effect on the most vulnerable, including minorities and single mothers.
It is an oft-repeated chorus among Republicans who want to dismantle the law, even if some aren’t willing to risk a government shutdown to accomplish it. The threat to bring the nation to the fiscal brink once again is proving to be a bridge too far for congressional GOP leadership and other senior Republicans, who say such a move would only tarnish the party.
But Republicans including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal have said it is time for their party to draw a line in the sand. Both men have turned the debate on its head by claiming Democrats are holding the nation’s budget hostage to whims of Mr. Obama’s health care law.
“I don’t think this president or the Democrats are going to want to shut down the government,” Mr. Jindal told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “That’s a false choice. That’s a threat coming from them. I think Republicans should use every tactic, every opportunity we can to repeal and replace Obamacare.”
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican, used his party’s weekly address to pile on opposition to the law.
“Everywhere I go in Indiana, I meet business owners and workers who are in survival mode,” Mr. Pence said. “They’re trying to figure out how to survive the new normal of more regulations, higher taxes and the impending costs in mandates of [the health care law].”
Rising to a frequently issued challenge, Mr. Cruz on Sunday offered three health care reforms that Republicans might support in lieu of Mr. Obama’s plan.
He said that Americans should be allowed to build up health savings accounts in a tax-advantaged way, that health coverage should be “personal and portable” and divorced from employment and that consumers should be allowed to purchase health insurance across state lines instead of isolating policy options within individual states.
Howard Dean, former Vermont governor and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, said a system of interstate insurance options is the last thing he wants, arguing some states would pollute the policies that Vermonters and other states have built up and enjoy.
“I don’t want our people buying Texas health insurance,” he told CNN.
Mr. Cruz, responding to a separate question about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, also suggested a state-first approach to health care when he declined to second-guess Mr. Christie’s decision to sign a law that bars gay-conversion therapy among children.
“The decisions that states make locally about health care, I think, are best left to the states,” he said.
Mr. Cruz, who hasn’t kept a low profile as a freshman senator, is frequently linked to a presidential run in 2016.
Heritage Action, a conservative advocacy group, is on a nine-city tour to mobilize support for defunding the health overhaul, and Mr. Cruz roiled the crowd during a stop in Dallas last week.
And despite visits to Iowa and New Hampshire — vital prizes during a presidential primary season — Mr. Cruz insisted that the media likes to stir up talk of 2016.
“I think it’s the silly season in politics,” he said.
Rafael Cruz, the senator’s father, declined to map out his son’s political career during a cameo appearance on the program.
“That is the future,” he said. “Nobody knows what the future brings.”