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Thursday, Apr 19, 2018
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State GOP leaders divided on federal shutdown

LAKE BUENA VISTA — It was easy to see the divide among Republicans about the government shutdown during a gathering of party activists this weekend.

The hard-core party regulars here for a fundraising dinner and party business meeting used tough rhetoric in favor of a stand against President Obama and the Affordable Care Act.

“This is not the time for us to back down in Washington,” said Jonathan Hayes of Bay County, a member of the state party's governing executive committee.

They passed a resolution commending Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, leader of the hard-line forces in the Senate, for his one-man filibuster over the issue, which contributed to the momentum for the shutdown.

On the other hand, members of Congress who have to please voters in potential swing districts are speaking more cautiously.

Several Tampa area Republican House members say it's not a good idea to force a government shutdown over the issue of funding the health care reform law, also known as Obamacare.

“Doing what we're doing now, I think we run the risk of losing the House,” meaning the Republican majority, said Rep. Tom Rooney of Okeechobee, whose District 17 includes southeastern Hillsborough County.

Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, who also represents a substantial chunk of Hillsborough, said with layoffs of workers at MacDill Air Force Base and the chance of veterans not getting benefits, “It's not worth continuing to keep the government shut down.”

The local Republican members of Congress emphasized their opposition to the Affordable Care Act, but disagreed with the tactics used by hard-line opponents, including Cruz, to try to cut off funding for the law.

Ross noted that most of the ACA funding is mandatory spending that wouldn't be affected by legislation to “defund” it.

“We are now in the fourth day of a shutdown and Obamacare continues to be the law of the land,” he said.

Rooney said because the Democratic-controlled Senate never would pass a law defunding or repealing the ACA, and Obama never would sign it, Republicans would be better off allowing it to take effect fully.

“If we think it's so bad, a better strategy would have been to get rid of all the waivers and delays so it can take effect and people can see how bad it is,” he said. “In 2016 we'd probably pick up Senate seats, and have a huge issue to run on for the presidency – then we could repeal it through the normal legislative process.”

He advocates using the debt ceiling debate to pressure the Obama administration and Democrats for tax law changes and cuts in entitlement programs.

Rep. CW Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, didn't respond to an interview request but has said he opposes the shutdown and is ready to vote for a “continuing resolution” that would fund the government without defunding Obamacare.

Young is one of the most well-established Florida Congress members, a strong favorite for re-election next year, but he faces an increasingly Democratic-leaning St. Petersburg district that voted for Obama in both 2008 and 2012.

Democrats, including his opponent Jessica Ehrlich, are blasting him over the shutdown, noting that despite his stated stance, he voted with House Republicans last week to stop a procedural move that could have allowed a continuing resolution to come up for a vote.

Ehrlich called that “hypocrisy,” and the national Democratic Party is paying for robocalls in districts including Young's to bash him on the issue.

Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, asked about his stance on the issue, didn't say if he would vote for a continuing resolution that doesn't defund Obamacare, but he wrote via email: “I remain committed to ending the government shutdown,” and added that he has filled out paperwork to withhold his own pay as long as the government is shut down.

The tone was much different among party regulars at a Disney resort this weekend.

Peter Feaman, one of the state party's delegates to the Republican National Committee, drew applause when he told a gathering of top party officials he got an email from national GOP Chairman Reince Priebus the day Cruz began his filibuster, saying, “I and the RNC support Sen. Cruz.”

The party officials also passed a resolution saying they “stand with and support Senator Cruz in his efforts” and “give our profound thanks to Senator Cruz for his leadership in initiating this effort.” The resolution also applauded Republican senators who backed Cruz, including Florida's Marco Rubio

“We have to draw a line in the sand with this president,” said Bill Bunting, a Pasco County delegate to the state party executive committee. “That's why I'm totally in favor of what Sen. Cruz did.”

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