By Michael Cass / The Tennessean
In the most blistering terms, national and local tea party officials called on Tennessee's Republican senators Wednesday to join a legislative effort to defund Obamacare, the federal health care reform initiative championed by President Barack Obama.
A procession of tea party leaders accused Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of "caving and surrendering," called them "spineless, gutless cowards" and asked if they would have the "moral courage" to stand up to the Democratic "tyrant" in the White House.
"Do they want to put an army of government bureaucrats in charge of our lives, or do they want to secure freedom and put us in charge of our health care and our lives?" Nashville Tea Party President Ben Cunningham said. "That's the decision that Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander have to make."
Cunningham spoke at a news conference organized by Tea Party Express, a California-based group that calls itself the nation's largest tea party political action committee. The group, which is on a national tour that will soon move to North Carolina and Kentucky, called on Alexander and Corker to sign a letter by U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, and other conservatives who oppose any spending bill that includes funding for Obamacare.
But the tea partiers' preferred method for taking money away from the health care reform program is problematic. They want budget legislation that would continue funding other government programs -- thus avoiding a government shutdown -- while stripping it away from Obamacare.
Such legislation, known as a continuing resolution, would require not only approval by the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, but also by Obama himself, who would have to sign it to make it the law of the land.
Alexander said in a statement that his focus is on seeing Obamacare "dismantled and repealed."
"I have voted at least 23 times on the Senate floor to do that," he said. "Our focus now should be on how we replace an historic mistake with a step-by-step reform of our health care delivery system that reduces costs so more Americans can afford the health care they need."
In a phone interview, Corker said the effort to defund Obamacare is impractical. He said he, like other Republicans, opposes the policy.
"It's just a shame that people are being sold a bill of goods that won't work," Corker said. "I don't think there's anybody that's more concerned about this policy than I am. But I also have a responsibility to the citizens of our state that when I offer a solution, it's a realistic solution."
During the news conference at a Holiday Inn near Vanderbilt University, Tea Party Express Chairwoman Amy Kremer called Alexander and Corker "moderate RINOs," using an acronym that stands for "Republican In Name Only." Matt Collins of the Tennessee Campaign for Liberty called the senators "Liberal Lamar" and "Bailout Bob."
"Our senators here are spineless, gutless cowards who stand for nothing other than their own self-interest," Collins said.
Kevin Kookogey, a former chairman of the Williamson County Republican Party and a potential primary challenger to Alexander, called Obamacare "one of the greatest threats ever devised to our prosperity and to human liberty." He called Obama an "imperial president" and a "tyrant."
In related news Wednesday, the Senate Conservatives Fund said it has bought radio ads saying Alexander, who is up for re-election next year, voted for Obamacare funding earlier this year. Alexander voted for a continuing budget resolution to fund the entire government, including Obamacare.