J. Scott Applewhite/APSenate Majority Leader Harry Reid.By PHILIP ELLIOTT
WASHINGTON — With a week left to hammer out a deal to avoid a government shutdown, some lawmakers seem resigned — if not rushing — to that end.
Most say they don’t want the first government shutdown since 1996. But if the government happens to shut down, so be it. Republicans say it is part of their effort to dismantle Democrats’ health care overhaul, while Democrats defending the law recall that similar standoffs gave them political gains.
And fingers were already being pointed just to be on the safe side.
“I believe we should stand our ground,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, a tea party darling from Texas who pushed fellow Republicans to link a temporary budget bill with a provision to defund the Affordable Care Act. Some Republicans have vowed to shut down the government unless they can stop the law from taking hold.
Cruz and fellow tea party conservatives on Sunday said President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies would be to blame if they don’t accede to demands to strike the national health care law.
“If Harry Reid kills that [demand], Harry Reid is responsible for shutting down the government,” Cruz said Sunday.
The tactic won sharp criticism from Democrats and even some Republicans, well aware the shutdown in the-mid 1990s helped President Bill Clinton regain his political footing and win a second term.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called supporters of the defund-or-else strategy “legislative arsonists.” Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said the effort would not accomplish its goal and was unrealistic.
And the president had a direct message to those backing efforts to roll back his health law: “Let me say as clearly as I can: It is not going to happen.”
The Republican-led House on Friday approved legislation designed to wipe out the 3-year-old health care law. Yet Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid vowed to keep the health law intact despite Republicans’ attempts. And there’s virtually no chance Obama would sign such a measure if it were to ever reach his desk.
That doesn’t mean conservatives — especially the younger lawmakers closely aligned with the tea party — are going to stop with their demands.
Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., said the goal was to defund the president’s health care legislation for at least one more year, if not forever. If the government shuts down, it will be because Obama refused to compromise, he said.
“We do have eight days to reach a resolution on this, and I propose an idea that kept the government operating and opened for an entire year while delaying and defunding Obamacare for a year so that we could work out those differences,” Graves said, appearing on his first national Sunday program.
Left unsaid: It would require Obama to abandon his chief domestic accomplishment.
“We don’t want to shut down the government,” said Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz. “I want to make it clear: We want to shut down Obamacare.”
The unyielding political posturing comes one week before Congress reaches an Oct. 1 deadline to dodge any interruptions in government services. While work continues on a temporary spending bill, a potentially more devastating separate deadline looms a few weeks later when the government could run out of money to pay its bills.
Lawmakers are considering separate legislation that would let the United States avoid a first-ever default on its debt obligations. House Republicans are planning legislation that would attach a 1-year delay in the health care law in exchange for ability to increase the nation’s credit limit of $16.7 trillion.
“I cannot believe that they are going to throw a tantrum and throw the American people and our economic recovery under the bus,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat
Even within his own party, Cruz faced skepticism.
“It’s not a tactic that we can actually carry out and be successful,” Coburn said.
Cruz and McCaskill were interviewed on “Fox News Sunday.” Pelosi spoke to CNN’s “State of the Union.” Coburn and Salmon were on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” Graves was on ABC’s “This Week.”