AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said Wednesday that a federal government shutdown may be necessary to halt the White House-backed health care law — calling the budget debate to avoid one the best and maybe last chance of defunding the Obama administration’s signature initiative.
The tea party firebrand has long suggested that holding up the continuing resolution, or must-pass legislation that will keep federal agencies running after Sept. 30, is critical leverage congressional Republicans have against the health care law. During a conference call with a small group of reporters from the Senate cloakroom, Cruz said, “My focus for the next 61 days is very directly targeted to one thing, and that is working to defund Obamacare.”
He said he and fellow fierce conservatives U.S. Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Marco Rubio of Florida have agreed to oppose the spending bill at the end of the budget year in September if it includes funding for the health care law.
“In my view, this is the best opportunity we have to defund Obamacare and quite possibly our last to effectively defund Obamacare,” Cruz said.
He also acknowledged, though, that many of his Republican Senate and House colleagues won’t support the effort unless “the grassroots rise up in overwhelming numbers and demand it.”
“No politician in Washington can win this fight,” Cruz said, adding that “only the American people” could.
Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of Cruz’s upset victory over Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the Republican primary to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. A little-known former state solicitor general, Cruz began the race as a huge underdog but used a wave of tea party support to first force an unlikely runoff election, then trounce Dewhurst— the well-financed, mainstream GOP choice, in a summer vote featuring low turnout.
Since arriving in Washington, Cruz’s brash style has angered both Democrats and many Republicans, but he has so embraced the role of Senate troublemaker that his name is now mentioned in Texas circles as a possible 2016 presidential candidate.
“When the race for Senate began nobody thought I had a prayer,” Cruz said. He called his victory, “a tremendous testament to the power of the grassroots” and said the same model could now successfully defund the health care law.
Asked why grassroots support opposing the law didn’t hurt President Barack Obama’s re-election bid last year, Cruz replied, “one of the biggest mistakes Republicans made in November is that we didn’t draw clear distinctions and win the argument.”
He called the 2010 midterm elections a referendum on the health care law that saw Republicans prevailed in many key races. But last year, Cruz said, “Obamacare all-but disappeared from the conversation.”
“Anytime Republicans paint in pale pastels rather than drawing clear distinctions between two visions for the country,” he added, “we lose.”
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