Washington Watch: GOP continues to rail against the Affordable Care Act

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz spoke for more than 21 hours this past week, mostly on the evils of Obamacare, in a futile but attention-grabbing effort to defund the Affordable Care Act and the health care exchanges that launch on Tuesday.

Cruz took the opportunity during the marathon speech to read to his children, who watched on C-SPAN. He read the classic “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss and Cruz, R-Texas, said his father used food coloring to make green eggs and ham when he was young.

But some Democrats seized on that book reading to accuse Cruz of being hypocritical about Obamacare and his efforts.

“I was appalled,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. “‘Green Eggs and Ham’ has a moral: Don’t criticize something, don’t reject something, until you actually try it. Sam said he didn’t like green eggs and ham for a long time. And then, when he finally tried it, he liked it.”

Cruz succeeded in raising his profile and dividing the GOP with the threat of a partial government shutdown looming on Tuesday. Knowing the Democrats had the votes and procedural rules on their side, Cruz pointed to this past Friday’s vote on a needed budget stopgap to avoid a shutdown.

House Republicans successfully passed a budget stopgap that defunded Obamacare, but also carried a veto threat from the White House. So Cruz attempted to rally Senate Republicans to vote against a “cloture” vote to keep the Senate from considering the bill that defunded Obamacare, knowing that Democrats would then strip out the “defund” language with an amendment.

Ultimately, 25 Republicans voted for the “cloture” to move forward on the bill that, at that time, still defunded Obamacare. Nineteen Republicans, including Cruz and Sen. David Vitter, R-La., opposed the vote to consider the bill.

Then, on complete party-line votes, the Senate, including Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., voted 54 to 44 to remove the defund-Obamacare language and approve the bill.

The so-called “clean” budget stopgap, called a continuing resolution, moved back to the House for consideration.

House Republicans don’t have the votes — a majority of the House GOP — to pass a “clean” bill. So Republicans promptly responded on Saturday by beginning to change the bill with a delay of the Obamacare individual mandate and by repealing the medical device tax that helps pay for the Medicaid expansion.

These are things President Barack Obama and the Senate leadership have repeatedly said they would not negotiate on under the threat of a shutdown, so now a government shutdown appears nearly imminent on Tuesday unless some last-minute compromise is reached.

“I continue working to fund the government while using every legislative tool available to delay, defund, and ultimately, repeal and replace the president’s health care law,” said Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, who chairs the staunchly conservative Republican Study Committee that has succeeded in moving the GOP House leadership further to the right.

Republicans have said they do not want a shutdown and have tried to argue it would be the fault of Democrats and Obama if a shutdown occurs because they refused to delay Obamacare.

There also is the looming threat of a federal government default come Oct. 17 or so if Congress does not raise the debt ceiling to pay its bills.

The president on Friday said he will work with Republicans to improve the Affordable Care Act, “but that will not happen under the threat of a shutdown.”

The results of a shutdown could include delayed pay for the active military, many thousands of federal workers staying home without pay and the loss of new federal loans and scientific research. A default would mean an even worse “economic shutdown” for the investments and savings of millions of people, he said.

Obama said Democrats would be just as unreasonable if they were threatening a shutdown by demanding 40 percent corporate tax rate hikes.

“Do not threaten to burn the house down simply because you haven’t gotten 100 percent of your way,” Obama said.

No matter what, though, Louisiana now has one less House vote after Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, stepped down for a job in the Jindal administration.

In the end, Alexander was frustrated with the shutdown risks coming from many in his own party— “ultraconservatives … playing games.”

“Some would like to see a government shutdown and see government go away altogether and the Speaker (John Boehner, R-Ohio) is in a precarious position,” Alexander said.

Jordan Blum is chief of The Advocate’s Washington bureau. His email is jblum@theadvocate.com