Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told Newsmax in an exclusive interview on Friday that Republicans weren't fighting a lost cause to defund Obamacare as part of legislation to prevent the federal government from shutting down next week.
"I don't think it was a waste of time," the Kentucky Republican said. "The American people do fully understand that still, not a single Republican in the House or Senate favors this awful new law — and if they will send us enough additional new members to get rid of it, we will."
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The Senate voted 54-44 along party lines on Friday to temporarily finance the government through mid-December and pay for the troubled healthcare law for the next year. Independents Angus King and Bernie Sanders voted with the Democrats. Republicans Orrin Hatch and Jeff Flake did not vote.
The vote came after
an amendment was approved to remove the language that defunded Obamacare, on the same party-line vote.
The House of Representatives had sent the legislation — a "continuing resolution" — to the Senate last week. The House bill included
language to defund the Affordable Care Act.
The lower chamber will begin taking up the Senate resolution on Saturday. If GOP legislators continue their demand that Obamacare be defunded, delayed or otherwise challenged, Congress could easily be at an impasse by midnight Monday, when the federal government's current fiscal year ends.
McConnell told Newsmax that Senate Republicans, with 46 seats versus 52 for Democrats, had a "math problem" in trying to kill money for the healthcare law. The Senate also has two independents, and they caucus with the Democrats.
"We demonstrated once again that every single Republican is in favor of defunding Obamacare," he said. "We had a solid party-line vote. Our difficulty, of course, in achieving that has to do with simple mathematics."
Four red-state Democrats are up for re-election next year, McConnell noted. They are Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.
"There are four Democratic senators who are running for re-election who will have to explain to their constituents why they didn't take the opportunity today to defund, and therefore stop, this overwhelmingly unpopular law," the Republican minority leader said.
"Our ability to have achieved the defunding is not there, because we don't have enough Republican senators to achieve the goal — and until we have at least four or five Democrats to support us, we can't get that job done."
The situation now depends on the House.
"Nobody's in favor of shutting down the government," McConnell told Newsmax. "I'm sure the House is thinking about what it wants to send back to the Senate, but I can tell you for sure that no Senate Republicans and no House Republicans thinks shutting down the government is a good idea."
House Speaker John Boehner has vowed not to back a "clean" Senate bill — that is, one that defunds the Obamacare portion — but he has floated the idea of a provision that would delay implementing the healthcare law for a year.
"That would be a very appealing vote to all Senate Republicans," McConnell said.
But the rule of numbers, again, prevails.
"It would require at least five Senate Democrats to agree with that. We’re not going to be able to do anything Republicans-only in the Senate because we have a math problem," he said.
McConnell acknowledged the influence of grass-roots organizations in the continuing resolution debate, as well as the upcoming struggle over raising the government's borrowing authority.
In fact, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee came under fire by Andy Roth, a vice president of the fiscally conservative Club for Growth, for voting to close debate on the House measure. That vote started out the round of Senate actions that ended with the language to defund Obamacare being stripped from the bill.
Roth said on Twitter:
"Outside groups watching this can be assured that every single Republican member of the Senate is in favor of defunding Obamacare," McConnell told Newsmax. "The message is clear: Every single Republican is in favor of defunding Obamacare — and, at least at this point, every single Democrat is in favor of keeping it."
Editor's Note: ObamaCare Is About to Strike Are You Prepared?
In the end, however, the minority leader is optimistic that the government will keep operating next week.
"Sooner or later, we'll figure this out and the government will not shut down," McConnell said. "That's certainly my hope.
"We generally have big debates when the continuing resolution comes up or when the president requests that we raise the debt ceiling," he added. "It's not at all uncommon to end up having a lot of discussion. And what we were hoping to achieve was the defunding of Obamacare.
"Unfortunately, because there were not enough Republicans in the Senate to support that, that was not achievable."
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