Updated 6:43 p.m. | Sen. Ted Cruz downplayed the damage of a government shutdown he and 11 other Senate Republicans are threatening over Obamacare as the equivalent of an extended weekend.
The Texas Republican also said he didn't believe the evidence supported the idea that the two shutdowns in the mid-1990s were a disaster for Republicans.
"There are some Democrats, some in the media, even some Republicans, who portray a shutdown as ... a horrible calamity. I think the term 'shutdown' is a misnomer. It's actually a partial, temporary shutdown. We have seen them before.
"The world didn't end. Planes didn't fall out of the sky, Social Security checks didn't stop, military paychecks didn't stop, we didn't default on our national debt," Cruz said. "What happened was non-essential government services were temporarily suspended while the CR expired.
"That happens every single week on the weekend. Saturdays and Sundays we see temporary, partial government shutdowns and the world doesn't end," Cruz said.
Cruz then emphasized that such a scenario would not be sustainable over the longer term, but in making his case, he partially agreed with the findings of the Congressional Research Service about the health care law that's come to be known as Obamacare. For some of the same technical reasons that the government didn't totally grind to a halt during the prior shutdowns, Obamacare would still exist, too.
That was the point of a CRS memo circulated Tuesday by the office of Sen. Tom Coburn.
The Oklahoma Republican has emerged as a leading voice against the strategy of blocking funding for the health care law. He explained the reasoning for his position last week in an interview with the Washington Examiner.
"You’re going to set an expectation among the conservatives in our party that we can achieve something that we’re not able to achieve ... it’s not an achievable strategy. It’s creating the false impression that you can do something when you can’t. And it’s dishonest," Coburn said.
North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard M. Burr is among those squarely in the Coburn camp, having called what Cruz and others are promoting "the dumbest idea I've ever heard of" last week. His office circulated a CRS memo Tuesday afternoon outlining reasons why even a government shutdown wouldn't bring about the effect desired by his colleagues.
"It appears that substantial [Affordable Care Act] implementation might continue during a lapse in annual appropriations that resulted in a temporary government shutdown for two reasons. The first is that the federal government will be able to rely on sources of funding other than annual discretionary appropriations to support implementation activities, including multiple-year and no-year discretionary funds still available for obligation as well as mandatory funds," the memo said.
Cruz, along with Republicans Mike Lee of Utah and Marco Rubio of Florida spoke on the floor Tuesday afternoon to push their case that no continuing resolution to fund the government past Sept. 30, should include appropriations for the overhaul that's come to be known as Obamacare.
Rubio implored fellow Republicans to join the effort.
"If we pass a budget in September that funds Obamacare, you did not do everything you could. You paid for this. You doubled down on it in ways that will have irreparable harm to our economy and to our country. This is our last best chance, and to those who say they’re against Obamacare, and I believe you," Rubio said. "But let me tell you something, if we are not willing to draw a line in the sand on this issue, then what issue are we willing to draw a line in the sand on? If we’re not going to go to the limit on this issue, then what issue is there?"
Rubio tweeted earlier Tuesday a complaint that efforts to get a block of time for the colloquy had been unsuccessful. A senior Democratic aide said no one on the majority side of the aisle was blocking the request, and the three senators subsequently got time locked in for later in the day.
Coburn spoke immediately after Cruz, Rubio and Lee. Not surprisingly, he took a different position, saying that he thought delaying implementation would be a better approach.
"I've never voted for a continuing resolution since I've been in the U.S. Senate. My American conservative union rating is 99 percent. I'd love to defund. I want someone to show me a mechanism where we can do that because the vast majority of money being spent today is mandatory spending that doesn't come under a spending bill associated with appropriations," Coburn said. "The only effective way to truly stop Obamacare, and I think we ought to ... stop it, would be to totally reverse it. We don't have the votes to do that. but we do have the votes to delay it."
Coburn suggested a strategy of forcing votes on policy riders that block or delay implementation of specific provisions like the law's individual mandate to purchase health insurance. That, in Coburn's view, could lead to Democrats taking unpopular votes.
Earlier in the day, Cruz said he though there were no good alternatives.
"It is the only strategy I'm aware of that can work, and if we do not pursue this strategy, we are saying we surrender. Obamacare will remain a permanent feature of the American economy," Cruz said at Heritage in explaining the push. "And you know what? There are an awful lot of members of Congress in both houses who campaigned explicitly on saying ... we will fight to repeal Obamacare."
Asked about his own view, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that discussions were still under way among Republicans on the best approach.
Separately, the Congressional Budget Office announced that the decision by the Obama administration to delay the law's employer mandate would cost the government about $12 billion.
"As a result of the Administration’s announcement and recently issued final rules, the net cost is now estimated to be $1,375 billion — $12 billion more than previously estimated. The largest change is a $10 billion reduction in penalty payments by employers that would have been collected in 2015," the CBO said. "Costs for exchange subsidies are expected to increase by $3 billion."