Sen. Ted Cruz says he will fight "with every breath" to stop the health care overhaul, even if it means shutting down segments of the federal government. That approach, warns former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, is "quite dicey" politically for Republicans.
A clear divide over President Barack Obama's health care law separates the emerging field of potential 2016 GOP presidential candidates. And it offers a preview of the battle Republicans nationwide will fight in their effort to build the party and win back the White House.
On one side of the health care fight are Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Texas' Cruz and others who say they are standing on principle and willing to oppose the law at all costs.
On the other side are those taking what they call a pragmatic approach by accepting the law, if grudgingly, and moving on. Holding that view are New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who says that shutting down the government would violate the public trust.
The Republican-controlled House passed a short-term spending plan Friday that would continue funding government operations through mid-December while withholding money for Obama's signature domestic accomplishment. Some GOP lawmakers also advocate holding back on increasing the nation's borrowing limit, which could result in a first-ever default, unless what they call "Obamacare" is brought down.
Obama, who has warned of "economic chaos" should Congress pursue such a strategy, said Friday in Missouri: "We're the world's bedrock investment. The entire world looks to us to make sure the world economy is stable."
Less than a quarter of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, about the same as approve of Republicans in Congress, according to recent national polls. Democrats poll slightly higher, and large majorities disapprove of the work of both.
Walker said shutting down the government violates government's chief responsibility to run, and run efficiently. He views the next round of congressional campaigns as a referendum on the law passed three years and two elections ago.
"The best way to fight it is in the 2014 elections," Walker said Friday in an Associated Press interview.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, hosting a state Republican conference on Mackinac Island where Walker, Jindal and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky are set to appear, said a shutdown "reflects poorly on the national political culture."
Jindal said earlier this week, "I do think the party needs to be more than the party of 'no.'"
Bush was more pointed, saying Republicans would be guilty of overplaying their hand if they passed a spending measure that did not include money for the health care law.
"You control one-half of one-third of the leverage in Washington, D.C.," Bush said, referring to House Republicans. "As we get closer to these deadlines, there needs to be an understanding of that, or, politically, it gets quite dicey for the Republican Party."
Cruz said worries that voters would blame Republicans for a shutdown are unfounded.
"If history is a guide, the fear of deep political repercussions — I don't think the data bear that out," he said.
Republican lawmakers and Democratic President Bill Clinton failed to agree on spending in 1995, which resulted in two partial government shutdowns. Clinton was re-elected the following year, but Cruz noted that Republicans held the majorities in both House of Congress in 1996 and 1998, and collaborated with Clinton on spending cuts and other changes that preceded economic expansion.
Creating some daylight between himself and his Senate colleagues, Paul — also a potential candidate for president — called a shutdown "a dumb idea" but said the fight about it was worth having.
"I am for the debate, I am for fighting," Paul said. "I don't want to shut the government down, though. I think that's a bad solution."
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