News Column

Republicans Back Away From Government Shutdown

August 14, 2013

Akbar Ahmed

U.S. Capitol (file photo)

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson rode opposition to President Barack Obama's signature health care law to victory in 2010.

But Johnson indicated Tuesday that shutting down the federal government in the fall -- an idea embraced by some tea-party-backed Republicans -- is probably not the right way to block funding for Obamacare.

"I'm for an all-of-the-above strategy," Johnson (R-Wis.) said. "Anything the Republicans can do by getting information to the public where we can delay and prevent Obamcare from taking permanent root, I'm for it."

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has discussed using a temporary government shutdown to get a resolution passed to stop funding the Affordable Care Act. When Congress returns from its August recess, lawmakers need to reach agreement to fund the government beyond Sept. 30.

Cruz's idea has garnered a lot of publicity, especially from tea party activists in the Republican-led House of Representatives. The National Review reported Tuesday that the House Republican leadership was working to avoid a shutdown.

"Even if we were to not pass the continuing resolution (to fund the federal government), you're not going to be able to defund Obamacare, absent of President Obama signing a law, which I think is highly unlikely," Johnson said. "So I appreciate the fact that they've raised the issue. But defunding Obamacare, with President Obama in the White House and Harry Reid in the Senate, I think is next to impossible."

Johnson's stance appears to match the one taken by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, a fellow Wisconsin Republican, during a recent appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, said a government shutdown would affect discretionary spending but not entitlements. He said Obamacare is an entitlement like Social Security and Medicare and would carry on "even under a government shutdown scenario."

"So it's just not that simple and easy," Ryan said. "You know, rather than sort of swinging for the fences and trying to take this entire law out with discretionary spending, I think there are more effective ways of achieving that goal."

"We think that we can do better by delaying this law," Ryan added. "We've already had votes to delay other parts of it. Democrats have supported us in that. And so I think there's going to be a better strategy to actually achieve our goal of ultimately delaying it, ultimately replacing Obamacare."

Last week, Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.) told a Fox Valley radio station that he doubted the government would be shut down in the fall.

Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) said in a statement that he believes "Obamacare needs to be defunded and replaced with health care reforms that will actually work for the American people." He added, "I do not believe that forcing a government shutdown is the right tactic."

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat, said Tuesday that she and others would do everything "to avert a government shutdown."

"My tea party-inspired colleagues are manufacturing crises that in recent years have led to slow growth for our economy," Baldwin said during a visit to the Medical College of Wisconsin. "Other than the sequester, I can't imagine anything that would cause more damage."

Republican Gov. Scott Walker also has said he hopes Congress can reach agreement on keeping the government operating.

Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.), a veteran lawmaker who was in Washington in 1995-'96 during a standoff with then-President Bill Clinton, said he is opposed to a government shutdown.

"If it would achieve the desired objective of reforming the government ... I suppose great," he said. "But I don't think it's a tactic that would succeed based on experience."

He said a government shutdown, like the one that occurred when then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich faced off against Clinton, "transfers the spotlight to the president."

"I think most of us thought it might bring the president to the table and be an effective way of making changes," Petri said. "It didn't work. I don't know what has changed since then, just people have gained some experience in walking down that path that hasn't been as positive."

Petri said he recalled that Gingrich "finally said we're losing the battle of public opinion and the public is turning against Republicans and we're going to have to figure out how to modify that course."

"There were those who said, 'Oh, no, if we just hang on long enough we'll eventually prevail,'" Petri said. "I mean, we are elected representatives. If the public does not agree, they can correct course themselves at the next election."

Akbar Ahmed of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.


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