A day after Senator Mike Lee of Utah threatened to shut down the government if Obamacare is not defunded, he took his campaign to Sean Hannity's radio show.
Knowing he is in the minority in the Senate, Lee has explicitly threatened to filibuster appropriations bills, including continuing resolutions needed to keep the government operating, telling a Baltimore radio station “I'll utilize every procedural mechanism at my disposal to do it.”
A procedural maneuver such as this, if Lee and Hannity gain the backing of a significant number of Republican Senators, would surely result at best in a stand-off that if unresolved would lead to a government shutdown akin to what occurred in 1995. As NPR notes, that year “it wasn't just government workers who took big hits, but tens of thousands of businesses somehow reliant on the government whether they knew it or not.” Groups affected included veterans, those needing the assistance of the State Department, patients seeking help from the National Institutes of Health, and even those needing firearms permits processed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
Hannity, ignoring the consequences, eagerly jumped onboard telling Lee:
“This is an interesting moment - I think - and a test for the Republican Party. Are they going to be the conservative alternative? How many members of the House and Senate ran on repealing Obamacare? Now they can vote symbolically or they can take this stand, is what you're telling them to do. I'm supporting you. I think they ought to just put their foot down, stand on principal and stop calculating what political impact is going to be felt here. Fund the rest of the government, but just defund Obamacare. And then if the Democrats want to shut down the government, then let them shut it down.”
Hannity's suggestion that Democrats would be shutting down the government by rejecting Lee's threat is either willfully ignorant or blindly naïve of the legislative process.
Lee knows he does not have the majority of votes in the Senate to kill Obamacare by defunding it. And while the House of Representatives is willing to waste its time on dozens of phony Obamacare repeal votes, the chamber never has taken real steps towards that goal.
Telling his listeners Republican members of the House and Senate should “stop calculating what political impact is going to be felt here” Hannity at least tacitly admits the political peril it would place the GOP in if Lee were to follow through on this maneuver.
But the politics don't account for the millions of Americans, from veterans, to small businesses who contract with the federal government who would be harmed by this legislative gamesmanship - not to mention the signal of instability it sends to financial markets around the world that the US government cannot pass a budget without its minority party, led by conservatives media figures holding the country hostage to their narrow ideology.