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Jeff Flake: A Government Shutdown Could Help Rescue Obamacare

11:58 AM, Sep 18, 2013 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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In 2012, then-senator and chairman of the Senate Conservatives Fund Jim DeMint endorsed Jeff Flake in the Arizona Senate race. “Jeff Flake is one of the strongest conservative leaders in Congress," declared DeMint. "[N]obody has done more to advance the cause of freedom than Jeff Flake. Nobody.”

Jeff Flake

Jeff Flake

But a little over a year since DeMint heaped effusive praise on Flake, the Arizona senator finds himself the subject of attack ads run by the Senate Conservatives Fund. "Republicans in Congress can stop Obamacare by simply refusing to fund it, but Senator Jeff Flake is nowhere to be found," declared one radio ad. "Jeff Flake won't stand up to President Obama."

The intraparty Republican squabbling over the campaign to defund Obamacare has been portrayed by many in the press as a fight between "Republican establishment" and the "conservative grassroots." But the rift between Flake and the Senate Conservatives Fund shows that's not quite right. A number of Republicans with sterling credentials as fiscal conservatives, including Flake, Oklahoma senator Tom Coburn, and Pennsylvania senator (and former Club for Growth president) Pat Toomey, say the campaign to defund Obamacare is misleading and counterproductive.

"Those who are pushing this proposal are telling people that it's going to defund Obamacare, and it just won't,” Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD. “If you want to know why we're in such low regard with the country, it’s that they don't believe us when we tell them something.”

Flake is right that the continuing resolution, which expires on September 30, only funds discretionary spending. And mandatory entitlement spending, which funds Obamacare, would not stop if Congress fails to pass another continuing resolution by the end of the month.

Senator Mike Lee of Utah, one of the leaders of the defund campaign, says in a Senate Conservatives Fund television ad that aired on Fox News that "Republicans in Congress can stop Obamacare if they simply refuse to fund it." But Lee readily admits that House Republicans’ passing a bill that funds everything but Obamacare--which they are likely to do this week--is only step one of the plan. Step two is that the threat of a shutdown--or an actual shutdown--turns public opinion sharply against Democrats.

"I don't think [Democrats] would be in a good negotiating posture at that point,” Lee told THE WEEKLY STANDARD during a recent phone interview. “To go to the American people and to say we're going to halt all funding for soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and for other essential government programs and all these people will go without paychecks for the simple reason that we're not willing to fund Obamacare… I don't think they're going to be in a good position to do that."

Step three is victory: Senate Democrats and President Obama then agree to defund Obamacare.

“I certainly agree with the goal, but I disagree with the strategy or the tactic,” says Flake. "I think I voted 37 times in the House to defund Obamcare--I'm trying."

But Republicans like Flake think the pain and chaos of a government shutdown would very likely turn the public against Republicans and also help rescue Obamacare.

“Obamacare is falling of its own weight,” says Flake, who is pushing for a bill to delay Obamacare for a year. He isn't insisting on that bill's passage in order to keep the government open because a shutdown could bolster Democratic claims that the problem with Obamacare isn’t the law itself but rather GOP obstruction and sabotage. “It will distract attention from Obamacare and be more focused on funding government,” Flake adds. There's a reason Democrats are quietly rooting for a shutdown.

Kentucky senator Rand Paul, an early supporter of the defund effort, has suggested that it’s simply a negotiating tactic. “You start out with defunding it in order to maybe get to a delay or maybe to get to where the individual mandate goes away since the employer mandate he's already delayed,” Paul told Sean Hannity in August.

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