Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s tea party opponent believes Congress can delay implementation of the new health care law in a spending bill to keep the government funded after Sept. 30, arguing that Democrats will ultimately cave to Republican demands.
As Republicans in the House of Representatives struggle to decide how to proceed on funding the government, Kentucky businessman Matt Bevin, who is challenging McConnell in the primary, laid out a political strategy Friday for how Republicans in Congress should pass a budget, based on the idea that Democrats will accept delaying Obamacare rather than see the government shut down.
“They will blink,” Bevin said in an interview. “I say, call their bluff.”
Republicans are currently divided over how to proceed with a spending bill to fund the government because conservative Republicans and outside groups are urging the party to use the threat of a government shutdown as a last-ditch maneuver to stop implementation of the health care law. Republicans, including McConnell, have been wary of such a strategy, for fear Republicans would take a hit politically if a standoff does lead to a shutdown. In other words, they don't think Democrats are bluffing.
Bevin cited a “fantastic” proposal from Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., that would fund the government but delay the Affordable Care Act for an extra year. Bevin called the plan “brilliant” because it would pass the House and then put it on the Democratically controlled Senate to “decide whether they’re willing to shut the government down.”
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Bevin said that he is “not calling for a shutdown of government,” but also seemed open to allowing a shutdown to occur, which he said would be Democrats’ choice. “If the Democrats want to shut the government down, that’s on them,” he said. “I think they’re full of baloney and I think it’s time to call their bluff.”
Democrats and the White House have been saying for months that a spending bill, called a continuing resolution or CR, that defunds or delays Obamacare is dead on arrival. McConnell has been resistant to using the budget battle to defund the health care law. On Thursday, McConnell seemed to succumb to some pressure over stopping Obamacare, calling for delaying the law’s mandates for everyone for a year, giving lawmakers more time to try to repeal it. But rather than use the continuing resolution to do so, McConnell filed the proposal as an amendment to an energy bill being debated in the Senate.
In mid-October, a few weeks after the budget deadline, the government is expected to hit its debt ceiling and will need more borrowing authority in order to meet its debt obligations. And Bevin has a plan for that too: Only increase the debt limit if it’s tied to a bill to balance the budget within 10 years. “There is no department, none, period, that should be immune from cuts,” he said.
Before the August recess, Republicans in the House put forward a transportation and housing appropriations bill that significantly cut into popular programs, then pulled the bill from the House floor because they didn’t have enough votes to pass it. Bevin said this as an example of a lack of Republican leadership from McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, whom Bevin called “weak” and “spineless.” “This is what I’m talking about. We need the people in Congress, in both the House and the Senate, to do the job they were sent to do, even when it’s hard, even when it’s unpopular,” he said. “That’s where Mitch McConnell and John Boehner have utterly failed the Republican Party.”
On the housing and transportation bill in particular, Bevin said he would want to “see it again” before deciding if he would back that particular bill. Rather than name specific cuts, Bevin stressed there is "waste" throughout the government that needs to be cut.
McConnell has taken swipes at Bevin for not living up to his own fiscally conservative principles, namely the fact that Bevin decries the bailout programs the government used to respond to the financial crisis five years ago, but took money to help rebuild his family’s bell-manufacturing business in Connecticut after a factory fire last year. McConnell ran ads calling his opponent “Bailout Bevin.”
But Bevin has perfected his response to these allegations. McConnell is a “big-government career politician who doesn’t even know how the private sector works,” Bevin said, arguing that the loan he received for his business -- a grant from the state of Connecticut that he said he is “personally liable to repay if permanent jobs aren’t created” -- is not a bailout at all. “The fact that he would confuse that with the hundreds of billions in bailouts that he was giving companies, that were in turn pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars back into his campaign coffers, is exactly why he needs to go,” he said.