President Obama on Friday refused to say whether he would go to the mat for his signature health care overhaul and shut down the government if Republicans challenge him to either do so or see the health law defunded in the fall.
“I won’t engage in hypotheticals,” the president told reporters before going on to predict that Republicans wouldn’t force the government to shut down in this fall’s budget fight because it would cut off vital government services to Americans and disrupt the fragile economic recovery.
“The idea that you would shut down the government unless you can keep 30 million people from getting health care is a bad idea,” Obama told reporters during a press conference in the White House’s East Room.
The president repeatedly said he didn’t think Republicans would move forward with some party members' plans because common sense would prevail.
Obama also accused Republicans of an “ideological fixation” on trying to repeal Obamacare and said trying to deny people health care has become a mean-spirited GOP crusade.
“Why is it that my friends in the other party have made the idea of preventing these people from getting health care their holy grail, their No. 1 priority?” he asked. “The one unifying principle in the Republican Party at the moment is making sure that 30 million people don’t have health care.”
Asked when he last spoke to Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on budget matters, Obama said very recently, before House Republicans left for the August recess.
Republicans cast the press conference as an obvious attempt to boost Obama's sagging poll numbers timed late Friday afternoon to try to control the news over the weekend as he heads off for an extravagant week-long vacation on Martha's Vineyard.
“It was a typical performance from the president: lots of casting blame, practically nothing on jobs and our economy,” said one GOP leadership aide.
The federal fiscal year ends Sept. 30, and Congress is expected to pass a temporary funding measure to give lawmakers more time to debate budget matters.
With budget battles coming in the fall, the Republican Party has spent the summer debating whether to shut down the government to protest the health care law by refusing to pass spending bills that keep the government running.
Establishment Republicans such as Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney have criticized the idea of a government shutdown as dysfunctional partisan politics that could cost Republicans the Senate. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer even called the idea “nuts.”
But Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., two conservative stars considering presidential runs, have promoted the idea as a way to show their supporters they are doing everything they can to repeal a law they believe is killing jobs, ruining the health care system and harming businesses.