ROGERS — A government shutdown would be more severe and complete in 2013 than it was in 1995, would hit a much more fragile economy and would not stop federal health care reform, U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark. said Tuesday.
Some Republican opponents of the federal health care reform known as Obamacare argue that Congress can and should shut off funding to the plan in the budget debate leading up to the end of the federal fiscal year Sept. 30 as a condition for approving a continuing resolution to keep government running.
A "Defund Obamacare" rally in Fayetteville drew an estimated 300 on Monday night. But Boozman said Tuesday that defunding the health care initiative was not "a winnable strategy."
Boozman is one of the Affordable Health Care law’s most consistent critics, calling it a "job killer" throughout his 2010 campaign. Boozman was a U.S. House member at the time who defeated incumbent Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln, largely on her vote for the controversial law.
But he said Tuesday that a budget without money for health care reform will never get through the Democratic-controlled Senate and would never be signed by President Barack Obama if it did, Boozman said. The result would be no spending authorization.
Because of the ongoing budget conflict, all prior authorizations for spending have run out, Boozman said. The 1995 government funding shutdown affected only part of federal spending because some spending was authorized under previously passed bills. A similar move by House Republicans in 2013 would result in a faster, more complete shut-off of money.
"There would not be federal food inspectors in our processing centers, shutting them down, and single moms would go home without getting paid," Boozman said during his address to the Rogers Noon Rotary Club, adding that Federal spending that would continue would include mandatory spending such as Social Security payments — and federal health care spending, including health care reform.
Sequestration, an automatic cutback imposed in a past budget fight, has also taken much of the remaining flexibility in the federal budget, Boozman said.
Scott Widen of Bentonville, chairman of the Benton County Tea Party and supporter of defunding the health care changes, replied: "The only one threatening to shut down the government is President Obama. Republicans need to show some backbone."
Government programs that get implemented are almost impossible to repeal later, Widen said. Health care reform will likely become permanent if portions are implemented after Oct. 1, he said.
Boozman said the federal government also has to be concerned with what a budget impasse would do to the economy. "The economy’s so fragile," he said. "When we had a dock strike in Los Angeles, it cost $1 billion a day. Now imagine what it would cost if we had to pull inspectors out of plants and docks and shut them all down."
Financial markets would suffer shocks, too, he said, with ill effects on pension plans
Candace Martin, spokeswoman for the Democratic Party of Arkansas, said that Boozman’s remarks along with other Republicans in the state’s delegation make an interesting contrast with pro-defunding statements by Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, who is running for U.S. Senate against Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Little Rock.
Cotton has not said whether he would support a government shutdown, but he does favor eventually shutting off funding for the health care overhaul.