With little more than a week before a budget stalemate over Obamacare sets off a government shutdown, Democrats and Republicans dug in deeper Sunday, with lawmakers increasingly looking, pre-emptively, to pin blame on the other side.
Democrats insist that the GOP-led effort to strip funding from Obamacare remains a nonstarter, while Republicans contend that any government shutdown will be President Obama’s fault.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” called anti-Obamacare Republicans “legislative arsonists.”
“This is totally irresponsible, completely juvenile and, as I called it, legislative arson. It’s just destructive,” the California Democrat said. “The cupboard is bare. There’s no more cuts to make … We cannot have cuts just for the sake of cuts.”
But Sen Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who has been at the forefront of the effort to defund the Affordable Care Act, said momentum and public support is with the GOP.
“I believe we should stand our ground,” Mr. Cruz said during an interview on “Fox News Sunday.”
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The Senate this week is set to begin debate on a bill to fund the government past Sept. 30, when the current fiscal year expires. A spending plan passed in the GOP-controlled House last week, but contained a provision that defunded the president’s signature health care reform law — a step that Senate Democrats have said absolutely will not pass in their chamber.
Mr. Cruz and his allies in the Senate now plan to block Democrats from reinserting Obamacare funding into a budget bill by a simple 50-vote majority. Mr. Cruz says he’s willing to filibuster the measure, should it come to that.
“If the majority is going to run over the minority with a train, the minority has the ability to stop them,” he added, referring to a potential filibuster.
But Mr. Cruz and other Republicans may run the risk of appearing to put politics over the financial well-being of the nation, something Democrats already have begun to exploit.
“This is about running for president with Ted Cruz. This isn’t about meaningful statesmanship,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat.
She also pointed out, as Mr. Obama has done repeatedly in recent weeks, that Obamacare was a key issue in the 2012 presidential election and the candidate who favored repeal, Republican Mitt Romney, lost.
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“I don’t think in America we should throw tantrums when we lose elections and threaten to shut down the government and refuse to pay the bills. The American people had a choice last November,” Ms. McCaskill said.
And Mr. Cruz isn’t just hearing it from Democrats: Members of his own party are skeptical of the anti-Obamacare fight.
“It’s not a tactic that we can actually carry out and be successful,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican.
If Senate Republicans fail and Obamacare funding returns to a budget bill, Mr. Cruz said the House should consider measures to fund the government piece by piece — starting with the military.
“Let’s see if Harry Reid is willing to shut down the military just because he wants to force Obamacare on the American people,” Mr. Cruz said.
Mr. Obama, in a speech Saturday night at the annual Congressional Black Caucus dinner, excoriated congressional Republicans for risking a government shutdown.
“It is time for these folks to stop governing by crisis,” Mr. Obama said at the Washington Convention Center. “Some want to shut down the government rather than provide people with health care!”
Referring to Republicans’ strategy to defund Obamacare, the president said he wanted to speak “as clearly as I can.”
“It’s not going to happen,” he said.