Did Mike Lee Just Cave?

by Andrew Stiles

This story in the Salt Lake Tribune has attracted a lot of attention today, specifically the part where Senator Mike Lee (R., Utah), in describing his plan to have Congress pass a series of small funding resolutions focused on individual agencies, is quoted saying: “let’s leave Obamacare for another day and not hold hostage the vast majority of government functions.” 

Some have question whether Lee and company are retreating from their aggressive push to defund the unpopular health-care law, a charge Lee spokesman Brian Phillips emphatically denies. First of all, Phillips takes issue with how the quote was presented in the Tribune story, saying it lacks crucial context, which can be found in the trascript of Lee’s speech on the Senate floor earlier today:

This is an effort to compromise, an effort that is badly needed, an effort that comes in the wake of other efforts to compromise that have for the most part failed. The House of Representatives has tried now three different times to avoid a shutdown, passing three different measures to make sure that our government would continue to be funded.

Senator Reid and those members of his conference, those who support him have rejected all three plans, rejected all three offers to keep the government funding, accusing Republicans of playing games with Obamacare. So in light of that, let’s leave Obamacare for another day and not hold the vast majority of government functions hostage when the vast majority of government functions don’t have anything to do with the implementation and enforcement of Obamacare. 

Phillips points to the bill to fund the military in the event of a shutdown, which passed both chambers unanimously and was signed by the president on Monday, as an example of how this strategy could play out in practice. “This isn’t about quiting the fight and agreeing to fund Obamacare,” he says. “This is a strategy to end the government shutdown. There things, like the military, that shouldn’t get caught up in this Obamacare fight. We can keep funding those at current levels. The American people don’t want us in a government shutdown, so let’s start ending the shutdown step by step.”

Essentially, this new strategy is specific to the circumstance of a government shutdown and in no way should be construed to suggest that the initial strategy to defund the law was misguided, Phillips argues. The House should pass individual continuing resolutions to restore funding to important government services impacted by the shutdown, he says, and put pressure on Senate majority leader Harry Reid if he refuses to take them up. (Which he already appears to have done preemptively, dismissing the plan as “just another wacky idea from the tea-party-driven Republicans.”)

Phillips conceded that much of the funding on Obamacare implementation is mandatory spending that will continue during a shutdown, but argued that the dynamics of the fight to end that funding haven’t changed: “That is what we are fighting over right now.”