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Rep. Steve Pearce would oppose government funding bill without striking Obamacare subsidies for Congress

UPDATED: Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., has further clarified his position on the government shutdown: He said moments ago he would, in fact, vote for a bill to keep government running as long as it makes clear that members of Congress and their staffs don’t get any special treatment – such as federal subsidies – under Obamacare.

“I would support that position,” Pearce said in a phone call. “I’m not sitting here saying we have to defund Obamacare or I’ll shut down the government.”

The Republican congressman’s position on the politically explosive issue has been tricky to pin down over the past two weeks.

“Time causes great changes in this business,” Pearce told me in a follow-up phone call after I spoke to him several hours ago and reported he would oppose any bill that did not delay or de-fund Obamacare.

Pearce said that’s not what he meant to convey, although he has voted in favor of bills over the past week that would do both. He said his major sticking point on any legislation is that members of Congress and their staffs should not receive government subsidies for the health insurance exchanges they will be required to enroll in as part of the Affordable Care Act. The Office of Personnel Management ruled last month that members and staff are entitled to subsidies under the health exchanges they are now required to sign up for under the law.

Pearce has been outspoken on this issue for several weeks. He tried unsuccessfully last week to convince House Speaker John Boehner to make such a provision a component of any bill to keep government open.

“What I’m saying is at the this point, I won’t give off of that,” Pearce said, adding that many Americans are upset by what they view as a special exception given to Congress. “The people inside the Beltway should live by the same rules as America.”

Here’s the piece I posted earlier, which Pearce didn’t object to generally. He just said it needed more clarity with respect to his position on special treatment for members of Congress and their staff under Obamacare.

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Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., clarified his position on the government shutdown today in an interview with me, saying he would vote against a clean bill to keep government operating if it does not include provisions to strip the budget for Obamacare, or at least delay the program by a year.

“Today, I would vote against it,” Pearce said. “It does nothing to fix our overall, underlying problems, and that is consistent with what I have said for three years. If we delay Obamacare a year it’s significant, if we delay the personal mandate.”

The conservative Republican’s comments came shortly after he exited a House Republican caucus meeting Tueday afternoon. In an interview with me on Sept. 19, Pearce was cagier on the question of what bill he could support, seeming to suggest he would accept legislation that didn’t gut Obamacare. (Reporters don’t write headlines, by the way, and that one was a bit strong compared to the actual story I wrote). Pearce’s remarks today come as some House Republicans appear to be leaning against a protracted government funding fight.

Pearce, who has typically been re-elected by wide margins, is seeking a sixth U.S. House term. He is likely to get a more spirited challenge than usual this time from Democrat candidate Roxanne “Rocky” Lara of Carlsbad.

The GOP-controlled house has voted three times on legislation to keep the government running, but has also attached provisions that would delay the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act – or Obamacare – by a year and abolish a medical devices tax designed to pay for it. Those proposals are a non-starter in the Democrat-controlled Senate, which has quickly rejected them after each House vote.

“We have been very reasonable and I don’t think I have voted for a government shutdown,” Pearce told me today. “It’s the other side that is saying “no, we won’t accept anything.’ My position is: Not looking for a government shutdown, not going to vote for one and not going to push Boehner into one so, I think I have held to my word.”

Meanwhile, the Senate has passed a so-called “clean” continuing resolution to keep the government operating through mid-November, but House Speaker John Boehner has refused to bring that bill to a vote.

“A small minority of extremists in the Republican party is now holding the entire country hostage over a law that has cleared the Congress and the Supreme Court, and survived a presidential election,” said Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M. “ Insisting on a government shutdown to prove a point isn’t leadership, it’s a temper tantrum, and the American people are rightly disgusted.”

The ping-pong legislation has both parties’ massive Capitol Hill spin machines in high gear. Democrats and Republicans both rightly claim they have passed legislation to keep the government operating, but both are being disingenuous in that they know the other side won’t acquiesce to their demands.

Meanwhile, New Mexico’s national parks are closed and Washington bureaucrats who should be at work are looking for the best drink specials around town.

 

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