Abbott Detours Around Government Shutdown Idea

Attorney General Greg Abbott said Thursday he would never give up the fight against Obamacare, but the front-running candidate for Texas governor declined to embrace a temporary shut-down of the federal government — one of the key strategies promoted by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and other Tea Party-backed Republicans in Washington. 

Obamacare, officially known as the Affordable Care Act, was the topic of conversation at a campaign event Abbott staged at a business in north Austin. (As it turns out, the company is one of Abbott’s campaign contractors).

Employing the town hall format, with questions from an audience packed in advance with supporters, Abbott highlighted his efforts to fight the federal law in court and said its financial burdens on employers would kill jobs in Texas. 

“The flaws and false promises of Obamacare are now being exposed,” Abbott said. “Obamacare is the wrong prescription for American health care and I will never stop fighting against it.”

A few minutes later, while taking questions from the audience, Abbott was asked if he supported efforts by conservative Republicans in Washington, Cruz in particular, to de-fund Obamacare, including the threat of a partial government shutdown to achieve it.

Abbott said he supported anything that will “get rid of Obamacare, whether it be defunding it or stripping it down altogether.” But he repeatedly refused to give his views about shutting down the government.

“As far as the internal machinations, the way the Congress’ budgetary process works, that’s outside the sphere of my expertise,” Abbott said. Later, pressed on the same topic by reporters, Abbott again demurred, saying he didn’t know “the mechanics of how all that works.”

Cruz, an Abbott protégé who served in the office of attorney general as solicitor general, has emerged as the most ardent defender of using a potential government shutdown as a way to strip funding for Obamacare and, presumably, forcing Democrats to give up on it. Cruz is floating a proposal, similar to one used by congressional Republicans in the 1990s, to oppose a “continuing resolution,” or CR, that keeps the government fully funded in the absence of a broader budget agreement.

The current budget expires in less than two months, so in order to keep the government going the U.S. Congress has to adopt a new budget or pass a temporary CR before that.

“Any elected official who casts a vote for this continuing resolution that funds Obamacare is affirmatively voting to fund Obamacare,” Cruz said during a speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation a few days ago. Other conservative GOP senators, including Mike Lee of Utah and Marco Rubio of Florida, have joined Cruz in promoting the shutdown idea but more moderate Republicans, including former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, oppose it.

Abbott’s Republican opponent, Tom Pauken, told the Texas Tribune he had "not formulated a final opinion” about whether a shutdown would be effective.

Abbott’s event in Austin coincided with an Obama cabinet member’s visit to Austin to tout and help explain the benefits of Obamacare. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius met with city officials and health care leaders as part of the rollout of the law.  

Abbott, citing delays in the implementation of the law, said no amount of sugar coating can hide its flaws.

“The problem isn’t the marketing of Obamacare, or the selling of Obamacare. The problem is Obamacare,” he said. 

Though Abbott warned of massive financial and regulatory burdens of the federal health care reforms, he said he supported two of its major provisions — one that bans insurance companies from putting lifetime caps on insurance policies and another that bars them from refusing coverage due to pre-existing conditions. The attorney general said those two provisions should be adopted in the law as stand-alone measures.

One reporter noted that Texas has the highest number of uninsured people in the nation and asked Abbott what he planned to do about it. Abbott expressed support for permitting insurance companies to sell policies across state lines but also suggested the problem isn't as bad as some suggest.

“Just because someone may be uninsured does not mean they don’t have access to health care,” Abbott said. “The percentage of people in the state of Texas with access to healthcare is in the mid- to high-90 percent range. People still have access to quality health care in the state of Texas.” 

The carefully orchestrated event, held at Texas Mailhouse, a mailing services company, featured testimonials from a country doctor and several businessmen who harshly criticized the federal health care law. They said it would lead to higher premiums, increased regulations and downsizing. 

“It’s only going to make our profit margins thinner and thinner,” said Bob Thomas, co-founder of Texas Mailhouse and president of Thomas Graphics.

Both Texas Mailhouse and Thomas Graphics are among Abbott’s campaign vendors. Thomas Graphics, a printer of direct mail for Texas Republican candidates, has received $458,000 from Abbott’s campaigns since 2000 and Texas Mailhouse has received $36,000, campaign records show.

“I think he came to us because he knows us,” Thomas said. “I don’t think money has anything to do with it.” 

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