Written by Ledyard King, Tennessean Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee said some of his fellow Republicans are engaging in a "silly effort" to oppose any new spending bills that include money to finance the 2010 health care reform law.
Corker is no fan of the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare. He voted with every other GOP senator in March to bar the government from allocating any money to implement the law as part of a fiscal 2013 appropriations bill, though he later voted for the spending bill that included the money.
Earlier this month, he called the health care law "a serious pig" that needs to be on "permanent hold."
But Tuesday, Corker took issue with some prominent conservatives in his party, including Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas, who say they won't vote for any spending bills - including stopgap spending bills known as continuing resolutions - that include money to advance the health care law.
"I think it's a silly effort, and what people are really saying who are behind that effort is, 'We don't have the courage to roll up our sleeves and deal with real deficit reduction and spending decisions. We want to take ourselves out of the debate and act like we are being principled to the American people by saying if there is one dime of funding for Obamacare we are not going to vote for the (continuing resolution),' " Corker said Tuesday morning on MSNBC. "I don't look at that as very courageous."
Republican calls to delay or defund the health care law have gotten louder since the Obama administration announced July 2 that it was postponing until 2015 the mandate that businesses with more than 50 workers provide health insurance to employees or pay a penalty. Administration officials said they want to give employers more time to comply.
Tennessee lawmakers have joined the GOP effort to minimize the health care law's impact.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, introduced a bill Friday that would delay the law for a year. Rep. Diane Black, R-Gallatin, has proposed barring federal subsidies for people who enroll in health insurance exchanges created by the law until a system is in place verifying eligibility.
'Last best chance'
Rubio said he's not interested in shutting down the government, which is what would happen if Congress refused to pass any legislation funding federal agencies beyond Oct. 1, the beginning of fiscal 2014. But he and his allies believe they'll gain leverage by linking the health care law to future spending on a variety of programs.
"The looming September debate on a short-term spending plan is the last best chance to do that," Rubio wrote Monday on Red State, a conservative blog. "That's why we must stand united to defund Obamacare as a condition for supporting a short-term spending plan. ... (W)e simply cannot continue to pour money into this rapidly imploding program."
Shutting down the government would do little to block implementation of the health care law, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.
A CRS memo issued Monday and released by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said the administration would retain some flexibility to keep programs online. Even under a shutdown, the government could still "substantially" implement the Affordable Care Act by using money other than the funds supplied through the annual appropriations bills, CRS said.
Corker said it's time to move on and try to fix the law from within.
"We have an opportunity to get our country right as it relates to fiscal issues," he said Tuesday. "We have taken big steps and when people take themselves out of the game like this, I think people see through it and understand what's really taking place."