Washington • President Barack Obama on Monday criticized far right Republicans, like Sen. Mike Lee, for threatening a government shutdown in another attempt to derail his signature health law.
"I cannot remember a time when one faction of one party promises economic chaos if it can’t get 100 percent of what it wants," he said, in a speech attempting to frame the upcoming fight over the budget and the nation’s debt limit. "That’s never happened before, but that’s what’s happening right now."
Lee, R-Utah, has led the charge in urging Republicans to vote against any budget deal that continues to fund the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. While he has some supporters, he hasn’t attracted nearly enough votes to achieve his goal.
He promises to push it regardless, arguing that the only way to truly delay Obamacare is to stop its funding.
"The president has delayed Obamacare for big business, unions, and other special interests, but refuses to protect families and individuals. Congress needs to step up and act to delay the law for everyone else," Lee argued. "This is a matter not only of fiscal prudence, but of fundamental fairness as well."
Tea party-affiliated House and Senate members have made a major impact in the debate, forcing Republicans to stake out a position on the matter and making it difficult for House Speaker John Boehner to pass even a short-term extension of the government’s budget.
All six of Utah’s members of Congress oppose the law widely known as Obamacare, but none has been willing to go as far as Lee in efforts to oppose it.
While GOP Reps. Rob Bishop and Chris Stewart have said they support the "defund Obamacare" legislation, they haven’t committed to vote against any budget bill that includes funding for the health care law. Many Republicans, including Sen. Orrin Hatch, have criticized the strategy, saying even a government shutdown won’t stop the health law. And they think the attempt allows Democratsto hit Republicans.
Obama did just that in his address marking the fifth anniversary of the economic collapse, while also offering a defense of the health law.
"Let’s put this in perspective. The Affordable Care Act has been the law for three and a half years now. It passed both houses of Congress. The Supreme Court ruled it constitutional," he said. "It was an issue in last year’s [presidential] election and the candidate who called for repeal lost."
He noted some of the law’s more popular aspects, such as a provision allowing people to stay on their parents’ health plan until age 26. And he said, starting Oct. 1, people who were previously hindered in getting insurance because of a past medical problem will be able to shop for a plan in a new exchange.
"So repealing the Affordable Care Act, making sure that 30 million people don’t get health insurance, and people with preexisting conditions continue to be locked out of the health-insurance market — that’s not an agenda for economic growth," Obama said.
The president offered to work with Republicans "where they’ve got specific suggestions that they can show will make our health care system work better" and he said he knows he won’t win them over on the merits of the health-reform law.
This is where he drew a line: "I will not negotiate over whether or not America keeps its word and meets its obligation. I will not negotiate over the full faith and credit of the United States."
And he acted incredulous that Lee and his allies are trying this tactic when the nation is still emerging from an economic catastrophe.
"Are some of these folks really so beholden to one extreme wing of their party that they’re willing to tank the entire economy just because they can’t get their way on this issue? Are they really willing to hurt people just to score political points?" the president said. "I hope not."
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