An unexpected fight broke out within the Republican Party last week, with a major schism developing over a looming government-shutdown threat. In one corner, we saw Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Mike Lee (R-Utah) convince many on the far-right that they'd rather shut down the government than finance the federal health care system. In the other corner, we saw a whole lot of Republicans who consider the threats absurd.
As of yesterday, the ringleaders appear to be hedging a bit. Rubio wrote an item for a right-wing website this morning, "I didn't come to Washington to shut down the federal government; I came to help bring it back to its proper role." On "Fox News Sunday," Lee didn't sound eager to shut down the government, either.
This clip only shows part of the discussion between the Utah Republican and Chris Wallace, but the transcript is online and it's worth checking out because Mike Lee seemed alarmingly confused about his plan and the policy he claims to be so upset about. Consider this initial pitch from the interview:
"You know, we always knew Obamacare was going to be unaffordable. We now also know that it's going to be unfair. The president has said that he's not ready to implement this law.... So, what I'm saying is that if the president is not ready to implement the law, if the law is not ready for primetime, Congress shouldn't fund it."
As an objective matter, this is largely gibberish. The Affordable Care Act is "unaffordable"? Actually, it drastically reduces the deficit -- the only thing the nation can't afford is repealing the law. Obama isn't "ready to implement this law"? That's demonstrably ridiculous -- implementation is continuing apace, which Republicans are aware of and freaking out about. (Lee may not understand this, but delaying part of an employer mandate provision is not the same thing as failing to implement an entire law.)
And what of the shutdown threat? Lee added, "Look, Chris, we all know that the government is going to get funded. The only question is whether the government gets funded with Obamacare or without it? And what I'm saying is that the president has said he's not ready to implement the law, he said that the law isn't ready for primetime. And so, if he's not ready, if the law is not ready, we can't fund it."
What an odd thing to say out loud and on purpose.
It's genuinely bizarre that Mike Lee went on national television to talk about federal health care law without brushing up on the basics of federal health care law. As the right-wing senator sees it, the president has said he's "not ready to implement the law." Whether Lee is profoundly ignorant or repeating shamelessly dishonest talking points is unclear, but I'm afraid it's one or the other.
That said, if Lee believes "we all know that the government is going to get funded," then his shutdown threat is looking a little hollow.
One more thing: Lee added that "this really isn't about Republican versus Democrat. It's not about liberal or conservative. This is yet another instance of Washington versus everyone else."
Actually, no. This is a group of right-wing lawmakers against their own party, the other party, and the needs of tens of millions of American families.