Outspoken conservative Sen. Ted Cruz said Tuesday the fight to defund Obamacare in the next 60 days "is likely to prove the most important battle that this Congress faces."
Speaking before bloggers at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative nonprofit in Washington, the freshman Texas Republican called on "hundreds of thousands" or even millions of grassroots critics of the Affordable Care Act to sign petitions and call their lawmakers in Washington before this September's spending debate.
Mr. Cruz told the bloggers he is one of several GOP senators who will never support a spending plan in September "that funds even one penny of Obamacare."
He has the support of conservative Sens. Mike Lee of Utah — who is circulating a letter on the effort among colleagues — and rising Republican stars such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
This week, a who's who of conservative groups urged House Republicans to carry on the funding battle in their chamber.
"I believe we can win this fight," Mr. Cruz said.
But the idea faces opposition within his own party.
Republican leaders in both chambers have not signed on to the effort, and others have decried the move as futile or reckless, since the party would risk blame for a government shutdown if the push to dismantle President Obama's health law brings the nation's fiscal house to the brink.
Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, released a report from the Congressional Research Service that found "shutting down the federal government does not shut down Obamacare."
The Obama administration would have wide latitude to keep the multi-year program up and running, the report said.
Additionally, the report noted the Obama administration devised contingency plans for the reforms amid prior budget showdowns, and the law's mandates and reporting requirements to the IRS would still be in place, the report said.
Mr. Cruz acknowledged that a lot of Republicans are resisting the fight, but added he would like to see their alternative to "surrender" in 2014, when government subsidies help Americans without employer-based health insurance seek private coverage and certain states expand their Medicaid rolls.
He said once the insurance premium subsidies kick in next year, the prospects for repealing the law "diminish dramatically" because it is difficult to roll back any type of government-funded benefit.
Mr. Cruz, rumored to be considering a 2016 presidential bid, said the House should pass a continuing resolution that funds every facet of the federal government except for the Affordable Care Act. Then, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Mr. Obama will cry foul, he predicted.
"And at that point, we've got to actually stand up and fight," Mr. Cruz said, calling on grassroots conservatives to light up the phones on Capitol Hill. "If we don't do it now, we very likely never will."
Earlier this month, Mr. Obama decided to delay by one year, to 2015, the employer mandate requiring firms of 50 or more full-time workers to provide health coverage or pay fines.
Mr. Cruz said if Obamacare were a good thing, the president would want the mandate to kick in before the 2014 midterm elections.
Republicans and some Democrats have derided the employer mandate as a job-killing measure that's prompting fast-food chains and other franchises to reduce payroll to stay under the 50-employer cap. The mandate defines a full-time work week as 30 hours, and some employers have reportedly cut workers' hours to make sure they are considered part-time.
The White House pushed back against those claims on Tuesday in a blog post and graphics that show promising job growth within the restaurant industry over the last three years.
"Recent news stories have cited anecdotes that restaurants are cutting employees' hours and refraining from hiring workers due to the ACA," wrote David Vandivier, chief of staff for the Council of Economic Advisers. "In reality, however, restaurants have had the fastest job growth of any industry in the retail and food services sector since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law."
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