Washington • Rep. Jim Matheson was one of only two Democrats to join House Republicans on Friday in support of a temporary budget bill that keeps the government operating until Dec. 15 and eliminates funding for the Affordable Care Act.
The GOP-controlled House approved the measure 230-189.
The Utah Democrat crossed party lines even though he disagrees with the legislative strategy. He says attempting to dismantle President Barack Obama’s signature health care law by threatening a government shutdown is irresponsible. He assumed the Senate would restore the funding, which it will attempt early next week, forcing the House to take up the issue again.
He would have preferred a bill that simply extends government funding at current levels, while the parties continue negotiating a broader spending deal.
But he noted that he has been an opponent of the law known as Obamacare and his main goal is keeping the government operating.
“This reflects my position on both of those issues,” Matheson said, explaining his vote. “We should avoid shutting down the government. I think we ought to keep our eye on that prize.”
The only other Democrat to vote for the bill was Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C.
Utah’s three House Republicans — Reps. Rob Bishop, Jason Chaffetz and Chris Stewart — supported the bill, as did all but one member of the majority party. That was Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va.
In a rare joint statement, Bishop, Chaffetz and Stewart criticized the health law as “the most destructive and expensive law ever passed” before putting pressure on Senate Republicans, like Utah’s Mike Lee, who have led the anti-Obamacare drive.
“We hope Senate Republicans will preserve the defunding language, pass the bill, and send it to the President,” they said. “The fight is and has always been in the Senate. We encourage them to get this done and bring final resolution to this growing problem.”
Lee called the vote “a victory for the American people” and asked the public to push the issue as the Senate takes it up early next week. He said if they do “I truly believe that, along with a unified Senate Republican Caucus, we will convince Democrats to finally do the right thing for the country.”
President Barack Obama on Friday also asked the public to get involved, arguing that Congress must pass a budget.
“No holding the economic hostage if you don’t get 100 percent of what you want,” he said at a rally in Missouri, where he highlighted the popular parts of the health-reform law and its goal to expand health coverage.
So far Lee has rallied 13 GOP senators to his side and has led an outreach campaign with the help of groups such as Heritage Action and FreedomWorks. He argues that this is the last, best chance to kill Obamacare before the uninsured and some small-business employees start signing up for coverage Oct. 1. That is the same day the government would shut down if Congress doesn’t reach a compromise on a budget bill.
Lee and his allies, like Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., do not have the votes in the Senate to pass the House bill, but Lee hopes to have all Republicans, even those who have publicly criticized the plan, stand together. And if Senate Democrats do what they say and restore funding, he said the burden is on them to figure out a way to fund the government and avoid a shutdown.
But some Senate Republicans, like Utah’s Orrin Hatch, question the strategy, saying a possible shutdown is likely to be blamed on Republicans.
Lee doesn’t expect it to get that far, predicting that Obama will eventually give in and agree to a delay in his health care law. But Obama and Senate leaders, including Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., say it is the Republicans who will eventually relent.
“I’m not going to allow them to inflict economic pain on millions of our own people just so they can make an ideological point,” the president said.