FAIRBANKS — Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young said they won’t back a government shutdown as a way to derail the Affordable Care Act but that they’re happy to use the opportunity to spotlight their displeasure with the law.
The Alaska Republicans agreed Wednesday that any short-term efforts to defund the law, commonly known as Obamacare, are futile in the Democrat-controlled Senate. The House passed a stop-gap bill Friday that would fund the federal government while eliminating money for the Affordable Care Act.
A partial government shutdown will go into effect Oct. 1 without an infusion of spending. It’s the same day that health insurance exchanges, a key provision of the Affordable Care Act, will become available to the public.
Murkowski and Young said the effort to defund the health law will almost certainly be stripped out of the Senate version of the spending bill, which could go to a vote as early as Friday. But they both said the maneuver has given its opponents a chance to highlight what they say are its costly insurance rates, lack of patient choice and other flaws.
Murkowski said she’s received about 2,000 calls on the subject, with the vast majority urging her to defund the health care law.
“I think it’s fair to say Alaskans are weighing in with their concerns, loud and clear,” Murkowski said.
Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat who voted in favor of the Affordable Care Act, was critical of efforts to tie the health care law to a government shutdown or negotiations to raise the debt limit. In a statement, he said those approaches are “reckless and extreme distractions that keep us from the business of the country, which includes paying our bills.”
“The American people want Congress to lay out a responsible budget, focus on creating jobs, and quit putting the debt at risk and causing our economy that’s moving in the right direction to falter,” Begich stated.
An unwillingness to risk a government shutdown was shared by the entire Alaska delegation.
Young was in Congress during the previous shutdown of the federal government in the mid-1990s and said it was a fiasco he doesn’t want to revisit. In a battle between the GOP-controlled Congress and President Clinton, Young said voters directed their anger squarely at Republicans.
“We got President Clinton re-elected to a second term,” Young said. “I’ve lived through it, and it’s not a good feeling.”
Murkowski said a government shutdown would lead to “total disarray,” while still keeping the underpinnings of the Affordable Care Act in place.
“This law is not going to go away if we simply filibuster it,” she said.
Young, however, said he still hadn’t made up his mind whether he would vote to raise the federal debt ceiling. House leaders may tie a one-year delay of the health law into the vote if the Senate strips their defunding measure, he said.
He said some leverage is needed to get the architects of the law to discuss its most problematic elements before they go into effect.
“They won’t accept they gave birth to a six-legged baby and it’s not a pretty one,” he said.
Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMbusiness.