Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, thinks President Obama's delay of key provisions of Obamacare could force Senate Democrats to defend the unpopular law during the upcoming congressional debate on a new continuing resolution to fund the government through the 2014 election.
“If congressional Democrats want to oppose appropriations bills without additional Obamacare funding, shut down the government, and side with the president and Big Business against the American people, then it's their choice," Lee said.
"But three years in, even the president himself has now admitted that Obamacare won’t work. The only responsible choice now is to protect the country from Obamacare's looming disaster, start over and finally begin work on real health care reform.”
Lee is responding to the Treasury Department's July 5th announcement that it will delay implementation of Obamacare’s employer mandate on businesses to provide health insurance to workers.
The new CR would be the fourth such stop-gap funding measure since Congress failed to adopt an annual budget in 2010. The government is currently operating on a CR that expires Sept. 30.
Lee observed to the Washington Examiner today that Obamacare advocates argued, during legislative debate on the measure, "that the reforms in this law had to be enacted and implemented in a comprehensive fashion," so it's appropriate to demand a delay of the rest of the full law — including the individual mandate requiring all Americans to buy officially approved health insurance — now that the Obama team is delaying the employer mandate.
"It's fundamentally unfair to adopt an employer mandate and an individual mandate and say 'I'm going to enforce this against hard-working individual Americans, but the government is going to look the other way when it comes to wealthy, corporate fat cats,' " Lee said.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other Republican House leaders made a similar point in a letter sent to Obama earlier today.
“Please also provide to Congress your justification for only delaying the employer mandate at this time and not the new mandate on individuals and families," the GOP House leaders said in the letter.
"We agree with you that the burden was overwhelming for employers, but we also believe American families need the same relief," they said.
Lee, a constitutional lawyer by training, wants to unite a populist anti-government message with a process argument, saying Obama’s delaying the employer mandate is an unconstitutional abrogation of the law, which requires full implementation on Jan. 1, 2014.
"The president wants to rewrite the law without going to Congress and he doesn't have the power to do that," he said in a phone interview. "It really is a unilateral amendment on the part of the president of his signature legislative accomplishment."
Although Lee's proposal raises the prospect of a government shut down if Senate and House leaders can't agree on a new continuing resolution, the Utah senator said that's not his goal.
"I don't want a government shut down," he said. "A government shut down would be irresponsible and it would be unnecessary in this circumstance. It would be very unfortunate if Democrats were so insistent on funding the administration in its selective enforcement of this law, which the administration has admitted it isn't prepared to implement and enforce. So, they shouldn't do that and it's a shame on them if they do."
Lee also had a warning for Republicans who might be skittish about this fight.
"Our current CR expires at the end of September, and so, every Republican is going to have a chance to weigh in on whether or not they're okay with Obamacare — whether or not they're willing to fund it," he said. "I think any Republican who agrees to fund Obamacare this time around is going to have a hard time explaining that to voters."
During the Senate budget debate in March, Lee supported an amendment to defund Obamacare offered by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. The amendment failed on a 52-45 party line vote.
Lee wouldn't say which colleagues agree with his proposal. "We're still trying to figure that out," he said.