Speaking at the Texas Medical Association's fall conference Saturday, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz reiterated that he would do anything he could to defund the Affordable Care Act and emphasized the importance of grassroots advocacy.
“You don’t try to pull back from an epic disaster like Obamacare and expect that it’s going to be an easy road,” said Cruz, who received a standing ovation from more than half of the audience at the end of his speech at the University of Texas at Austin. “If the American people rise up and hold our elected officials accountable, that’s how we turn this around,” he said.
As a voice for the Tea Party in the U.S. Senate, Cruz has spent weeks rousing grassroots advocates for the fight to defund the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare. He grabbed national headlines by speaking for 21 hours in opposition to the law, and encouraged congressional Republicans’ efforts to refuse any budget deal that did not strip financing for Obamacare. The budget impasse led to a 16-day government shutdown.
Although the shutdown ended Wednesday when Republicans agreed to a temporary budget deal that did not defund Obamacare, Cruz called the deal reached to temporarily finance the government and avoid a debt crisis “lousy” and indicated the fight would continue in January when Congress must again negotiate a budget deal. “There will be plenty of time to consider the particular tactical or strategic decisions,” he said.
On the national stage, Cruz’s role in the government shutdown has fueled talk of him being a Tea Party favorite for the 2016 presidential race, but it has also subjected him to criticism from both sides of the aisle in Washington.
Despite that criticism, Cruz emphasized the ongoing support he’s received, as evidenced by more than 2 million people signing a petition on dontfundit.com to show their support for his efforts. “That was breath-taking to see over 2 million people come together and say, 'Let’s stop this train wreck,'” Cruz said.
The ongoing efforts of grassroots advocates will hold Republican leadership accountable, said Cruz, who indicated that rather than supporting their colleagues in the House, GOP senators “dive-bombed” their efforts. “You don’t win a fight when your own team is firing cannons at the people who are standing up and leading,” he said.
The federal health insurance marketplace that launched Oct. 1, despite the government shutdown, has been plagued by technical problems. Cruz told Saturday's audience, “They’ll get the technical things worked out, eventually they’ll hire a programmer who can find his rear end with both hands.” He added that the federal website requires people to create accounts, input their financial information and calculate the tax credits available to help them purchase coverage, because the federal government is aware many will experience sticker shock at the high premium prices. “People will look at the costs and go, 'Holy cow!'”
The Texas Medical Association has not taken a position on Cruz’s strategy to defund Obamacare, said Dr. Austin King, the group's incoming president. The association supports efforts by lawmakers to keep the positive aspects of the law, fix what’s broken in the law and add provisions to improve the law.
“It wasn’t a combined dialogue between Democrats and Republicans. It was a one-way street,” said King, emphasizing that health reform should be established through bipartisanship.
When asked by Dr. Jason Terk, a pediatrician in Fort Worth, how he reconciles the tension between ideology and pragmatism in a representative government, Cruz said, “At some very real level, I don’t think there needs to be a tension.” The goal is to reach middle ground in any negotiation, said Cruz, adding he considers a victory in this fight “something that provides real relief to the millions of people that are hurting because of Obamacare.”
“A lot of us from Katy, Texas, are really proud of you,” said Arindon Sarkar, a student at Baylor College of Medicine and chair of the TMA Medical Student section, before asking Cruz how he would reform health care if the Affordable Care Act were revoked.
After reaching his goal to defund Obamacare, Cruz said he would continue working to reform health care by expanding competition in the insurance marketplace, empower patients to make decisions in consultation with their doctors and disempower government bureaucrats. Specifically, he said the government should allow the interstate purchase of health insurance to increase competition in the marketplace; expand access to health savings accounts, so that people can save in a tax-friendly way for routine medical care; and delink health insurance from employment.