By Clark Brooks, Greenville News
Republicans "are in free fall," but Democrats are now demanding too much in negotiations to reopen the government, and it's likely to come back and bite them, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said Sunday.
"To my colleagues in the House on both sides, and to my friends in the Senate, we're ruining both institutions, so it's unrealistic to expect us to be able to defund or delay Obamacare by shutting the government down," Graham said on ABC's "This Week."
The House, with a majority of Republicans, passed a bill on Sept. 20 to fund the government through Dec. 15, but deny funds for much of the Affordable Care Act, a law so closely associated with President Barack Obama that most people refer to it as "Obamacare." One week later, the Senate, controlled by Democrats, sent the House a bill to fund the government through Nov. 15, without the provision defunding the health law.
The House countered on Sept. 29 with provisions including a one-year delay in rolling out the law. The Senate removed those provisions on Sept. 30, the final day of the fiscal year, and sent the bill back to the House, which then tried imposing different changes in the law, including delaying by one year the requirement that people buy health insurance. The Senate rejected that, the House stood firm, and the partial government shutdown began on Oct. 1.
"Well, the truth is, we started down the road with unrealistic expectations," Graham said, noting that "the government is shut down, but Obamacare is still up."
State Sen. Lee Bright, one of Graham's challengers in the 2014 GOP primary, told The
News that to end the partial government shutdown, he would hold out for the one-year delay in the individual mandate to buy health insurance "while we're working out the continuing resolution" that had kept the government funded during a lengthy budget dispute.
"I think Congress has gone beyond, I wouldn't go another step," Bright said. "I think they've offered maybe more than they should have offered. At this point, I wouldn't go any further."
Graham's other two primary challengers, businessman Richard Cash of Powdersville and public affairs consultant Nancy Mace of Charleston, could not be reached for comment Sunday.
Polling shows the public blames both sides, but especially Republicans. That has created an urgency among some Republicans to cut a deal to end the shutdown, and caused tension among GOP members in the House and Senate.
"As to between the House and the Senate, we really do share a common goal of trying to replace and repeal Obamacare over time," Graham said. "We never had the leverage through the shutdown to repeal or replace. It was unrealistic."
Graham has gotten more involved in negotiations the past few days, including a strategy session with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and he said "Our Democratic friends keep moving the goal post in the Senate, thinking they're winning."
With the deadline for raising the nation's debt limit looming on Thursday, the Senate has been trying to produce a solution. Graham, frustrated by the moving goal post he described, said he believes the emphasis should shift back to the House, with Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., leading an effort with Boehner "to pass something out of the House that doesn't delay or defund but would be good government."
Bright said that he would not vote to increase the debt limit without negotiations on spending. Although raising the debt limit is done to cover previous spending, he said not raising it would limit further spending.
"They're out of control on the spending and if the credit of the United States is damaged, then it's going to impede their ability to spend in the future," he said.
Jay Stamper, a nonprofit executive from Columbia who is seeking the Democratic Party nomination for Graham's seat in 2014, sent a statement to The News in which he said it is "irresponsible for Senator Graham to link his criticisms of the Affordable Care Act to the concern we all have for passing a continuing resolution and for protecting the full faith and credit of the United States by adjusting the debt ceiling."
The debt limit issue is merging with the partial government shutdown as negotiations come down to the wire and once again threaten to rattle investors and damage an economy that is slowly but steadily growing.
Graham said that "the sooner this is over, the better" for Republicans, and the Affordable Care Act will haunt Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections. "Obamacare will be a liability for Democrats, and the government shutdown, we can survive if we're smart," he said.